An overnight with my kids Shant (recently 9) and Sage (recently 7) and friend Michael and Xylia (14). Hiked ~6 miles to Fish Bowls camp in Los Padres National Forest.
Cookies, wet wipes, s'mores, changes of clothes, stuffed animals, and bedtime books...the tools of the backpacking Dad. Pack well Papa, the pleasure of the trip depends upon it- for 7 year-olds cannot romanticize suffering through heat, wet clothes, bugs, and hunger.
The drive and day begin with typical childish optimism...running, falling, skipping through brush and down dusty trails. Necks crane upward at trees, we halt to stoop for bugs. My daughter points out every flower; my son, as usual, has his head lost in clouds and speculations about how sandstone forms.
Time slows. I'm a father, perfectly content following, watching my children grow, experience, wonder.
And then, of course, it comes.
My daughter simultaneously discovers foxtails in her socks and the heat of the relentless sun. Cheeks red, sweaty, she wilts. Feet drag and progress slows.
It becomes perfectly clear to me that children live in the present; she simply cannot rationalize the discomfort of it.
So we hold hands. I console. I carry bags. I carry children. I tell stories. Anything to boost morale, to avoid a looming meltdown. I become the beast of burden that every father must be.
I think about them, how their morale is often in direct proportion to sugar intake.
How they are surrounded by chaos, generating their own fields of it. I ponder how it can be that my shoes stay tied for months and yet when I tie theirs they unravel five times a day. I marvel at how they fall over, trip, get bruised and scraped at least once per mile and get food behind their ears.
We arrive in camp, immediately swarmed by mosquitoes. They play- and issue a series of cheerful requests. I make shelter. I make beds. I make them comfortable, I make dinner, I change clothes, I filter water...I do everything for them before I do anything for me. As it should be.
And eventually, when hands are cleaned and teeth are brushed and everyone is in bed I get my moment alone. Sipping whiskey, staring into the dying fire, I become starkly aware that these beautiful, crazy, bug-bitten days of childhood will end very soon.
The Beast of Burden