I’m not very good at waiting around for things to happen; like babies, for example. On Wednesday, I call a small resort and ask if they have any cabins available for the upcoming weekend. I also ask if they have cell service, just in case I go into labour (they don’t), but I figure I could make the hour-and-a-half trip back to to the hospital in good time. (I bring along a clean sheet for a roadside delivery just in case.) On Friday morning we roll out the driveway, our canoe hunkered over our Mazda, ready to explore a new lake and a new way of vacationing by ourselves. Never before has our family chosen to stay in the “front-country” when striking out on our own. Over the years we’ve canoed and backpacked into many different wilderness campsites, but considering the circumstances, going into the back-country isn’t an option this time. And it turns out that hot water, cupboards stocked with dishes, and ready-made beds covered with quilts, aren’t such a bad idea after all.
At the beach, while warming up after a swim, Susanna grabs an index card and a pencil and starts writing. After awhile she shares her work–a detailed outline of the stages of pregnancy, each with a summary of what a new mom should expect. My favourite line, in Stage 6, reads: You may notice that it will try to push itself out during labor. The “you may notice” bit sounds reassuring, like it’ll be so low-key I’ll have remind myself of what’s going on.
Inspired by her outline, I borrow her idea of “stages” and apply it to our family get-away. Like pregnancy, and most holidays, it seems to follow a pattern…
Stage 1: Adapt
This is the scratchiest part of the vacation–even if you’re at a five-star all-inclusive. Changing speeds and getting used to a new environment, especially if it’s in the woods and literally scratchy, takes a bit of time. During this phase expectations re-align with reality. Kind of like what happens when I see our cottage for the first time, nestled in a stand of mosquito-infested spruce and dressed with cobwebs. I guess I was expecting a little more charm, and a little less of the “made for a group of fishing buddies” feel. Susanna and Belén don’t seem to notice and head inside. They get busy adapting, collecting bouquets of reeds and grass for every room and deciding who will sleep where.
Later, when we launch our boat and I tentatively brush the surface of the water with my paddle, as if I’m painting rather than canoeing, Stan phrases his question carefully.
“So… I guess this is as fast as we’re going to go?”
“Yes,” I reply, even though the trout are at the other end of the lake, even though it’s a beautiful night, and even though we’ve made this canoe go much, much faster. “Yes, this is definitely as fast as we’re going to go.”
We don’t make it to the narrows that evening, where the lake trout stay safe from our hooks. And the rosemary sprigs from our garden, plucked with high hopes, never see the frying pan. Instead, I hand both girls a paddle and they take over my job from their post in the middle. They squabble, shout orders, and then congratulate each other when our vessel picks up speed and stays, relatively, on course. It would’ve been nice to reach the deep waters ahead, but we realize we need to stay within sight of our cabin, at least when I’m in the bow, and I can’t help but think it’s okay for the kids too. It’s good for children to feel the force of water against wood. To understand what happens when the paddle feathers the water away, or churns it towards the boat. To feel the thrill of managing natural elements, rather than a tiny arrow on a screen, or even the pages of a book.
Stage 2: Capitalize
On Saturday morning Belén and Stan slip away while Susanna and I are still in bed. They try again for lake trout–and reach the point we were heading for the night before–but get caught in a storm before they have any luck. Susanna and I strain to catch sight of a canoe heading for home but can’t see through the white sheet of rain quickly advancing. Feeling helpless, we start on a batch of these fluffy buttermilk pancakes (my new favourite recipe) and soon the soggy father-daughter team are dripping at the door. Alive. They didn’t even capsize or get struck by lightning and it seems silly I was so worried.
The wind howls and the clouds weep steadily for hours. It’s the kind of day that makes a nap after breakfast seem perfectly reasonable, especially after a hard paddle. Reading aloud, playing scrabble, and sketching are also on the agenda. I am thankful for the 625 square foot cabin and the blanket of slow that settles around us. There is no laundry to do, no computer to check, no work to be done, no garden to weed, and the supper is already prepped. We are steeped in rest and each other.
When the rain stops we build a fire despite gale-force winds and study the trees around us, hoping they won’t fall victim to the wind and we, in turn, to them. Fortunately we are braver than the mosquitoes and enjoy some insect-free supper and s’mores, deciding a little breeze is better than a blood-hungry, buzzing plague.
Stage 3: Debrief
I love stage three, when the trip happens all over again; only this time, bathed in the nostalgic light of retrospect. We go out for dinner the day we come home (a tradition after back-country trips) and indulge in beverages and a meal, plus dessert. Like we need to reward ourselves for going on vacation or something. Between ordering and eating we discuss our favourite parts and how great everything turned out. The sun, the rain, the wind, the food, the cabin. Even mishaps, like the sharp pencil that lodged itself deep into buttock flesh when a certain family member sat on it, producing tears and flaring tempers, don’t seem as menacing in a restaurant booth.
We discuss our plans for next summer and agree on a few points. It’ll be a backpacking trip in a place without mosquitoes. Death Valley? Well, it fits the criteria. A snowy glacial peak? No mosquitoes there. Wherever we go, we’ll have to adapt–especially with a one-year-old on our backs, hopefully capitalize, and most certainly debrief.
Is this what your vacations look like, too?