Sunday, March 26, 2017

Camping at Colorado Bend

For the past couple of years Andrew has given himself a new goal on his birthday for his next year. It has been things like trying a new beer or wine every time he drank and setting out to learn Spanish. This year as his birthday approached we were sitting on the couch watching an indie moving about a guy hiking. It was almost painfully slow, but the shots were beautiful so we just sat there tired watching beautiful scenes.

"You know, I think I want to go to a different Texas State Park each month as my goal for the next year, " he said all of the sudden.

"Yeah? That'd be awesome." I replied pretty quickly.

I'm all about the adventures and ideas of greatness. To better ourselves and expand our horizons. That's normally until my horizons are actually being expanded... like walking into the dark alone and hearing raccoons and trying to run to that gross composting toilet. Or my period waiting to be a week late, exactly on time for our camping trip were there aren't any showers. These types of stretching myself aren't what I was thinking about when we were sitting on the couch dreaming about Andrew's new goal. But, now that things are said and done, the pictures show it was romantic enough.

We drove a little over two hours from Austin to Colorado Bend State Park. Our first time camping as a family. Andrew's first time to even drive up camp, because he has always backpacked and done primitive camping. The park felt huge and quiet and slow as we drove in, winding along the roads at barely twenty miles an hour. We had the windows down on our van and could feel the dusty air as we watched cactus and shrubby trees go by. As soon as we were there Foster needed his diaper changed and the girls headed to the bathroom with Andrew. I changed Foster in the van while he cried thinking he was missing something grand, only to hear the girls coming back a bit fussy themselves, not wanting to use the weird composting potty.

 I shouted across the beautiful wild land, "I brought the pink potty remember? It will all be okay!"

We went into the park rangers office and Blanche immediately became best friends with the middle aged woman who was the ranger. Blanche has told me before that park rangers "save the world." The ranger asked if we wanted a campsite close to a potty, which I basically shouted yes for my own sake.

The next couple of hours were spent unpacking the tent and eating lunch at our camp site. For some reason whenever I come into a new wild space, I'm always a lot more cautious than my children. They seem to run in different directions, into tall grass and down steep hills, all while I keep saying again and again, "Okay, well wait a minute. Be careful." The full and moving Colorado River was just down the hill from our campsite and all around the area was brush and trees and what looked like a semi hidden tunnel system for raccoons. There were so many parts of our new world that felt untouched by man, which made me a little nervous.

After what felt like quite some time we all had on swimsuits and had snacks packed. After asking Blanche's park ranger friend, we drove down to a trail head to start our hike to find good swimming. We hiked a few minutes, past a couple of men fishing, the trail bright and sunny and flat. Foster had already fallen asleep on my back in the Ergo, and Rosemary was saying she was tired. We then bumped into some older women who had been hiking. They congratulated us on our victory of camping and being in nature with small children, and told us the swimming hole with several bikini clad beauties was the best one to swim in. When we turned the corner to the pool, a small waterfall or little rapids filled the pool. The trail crossed right through the water which was very slippery. After making it to other side, Blanche and I were the brave ones that got right in, the water freezing and clear and green. The sun felt so bright for March. The pool was at least nine or ten feet deep and Blanche kicked like a little puppy with her floaties. We swam and hiked and Blanche slid on her bottom down the small little waterfall, just like Mowgli in the Jungle book. One time on her way down the small fall, she went face first. She was holding on and kind of yelling so I made my way to her. I sat there and helped her onto her bottom. I let the water bang against me. There is something about sun and water and wind, it can just whip you around and wear you out in all the best ways.

Eventually it was time to go make dinner and enter our first night of camping. That night the kids were so tired by seven thirty, but it wasn't dark yet and the tent was still hot. I felt embarrassed at their hollowing. Well, mostly Rosemary, saying she was scared. I couldn't tell if she really was or if she just heard Blanche say it. I kept thinking that everyone could hear our wild little tent, and the kids a few spots down seemed so much more calm. Foster was nursing and then sat up and blew raspberries on my stomach. Andrew asked if I could get him to settle down, but that's what Foster always does, he just nurses and rolls around like a little puppy or kitten until he is tired. Finally he went to sleep though, sweaty and dirty and lying on top of the sleeping bag. The girls kept going on about what the tent would be like, were they anxious or tired or scared. By that point it was dark and I asked all the sudden, " Do you want to look at the stars?"

The depth of the night stars is so thick in the wild. Layer upon layer of stars and dust and magic, nothing like you could ever see in the city. We all looked up in awe, suddenly happy and better with fresh night air and glitter in the sky above us.

The girls went to bed just before Andrew and I did, but then as we lay there drifting in and out Andrew heard a noise. One thing that is so different about camping verses normal life with Andrew is that he is very aware in the wild. At home I have had him help me in the night and he will have no memory of it the next day. I have to become almost verbally abuse for him to respond in the night. He always acts innocent and doesn't know I've said the same thing thirty times. But this night, out in the wild, he jumps up at a thud, "What was that?" He unzips the tent and I hear him yelling "Scram! Get!" Rocky the park raccoon had opened up a green tub of ours and found the girl's marshmallows. I spent the next hour listening while Andrew got up and down to load more things into the van. Apparently raccoons like marshmallows and hand sanitizer and basically anything you leave out of the car.

The next morning Blanche thought it was hilarious that Rocky ate the marshmallows. She told some girls camping down the hill from us the story and they gave us their own marshmallows as they packed up camp. Both Blanche and Rosemary started warming up to the idea of camping and the community around it. Our second day was spent hiking to a beautiful waterfall that became a very steep trail at times. We met lots of great people and the wind blew and blew. We hiked until everyone was almost crying, and then had popsicles from the park store.

We were getting use to the idea of camping. Of cooking and cleaning with small amounts of water. I drew in my nature journal the tree the kids kept running around. When we first arrived at our campsite I told the kids not to go behind the tree, because the hill became steep there, and it was brushy and wild and untame. By the end of the first day I had said never mind, as they ran around and around the tree during their new made up game. Even Foster, could slowly make the circle. It would get a bit steep behind the tree and it always took him a couple seconds longer than I would think for him to reappear. But then, just as I was about to be getting up to go help, there he would come up that small little hill. That next morning as I washed breakfast dishes with the water dripping from a bag on that old tree, I looked down and saw an armadillo and its baby. I yelled, "A  opossum!" because I was excited and couldn't remember anything. The day before, after hiking to the waterfall and ice-cream we hung hammocks. That tree had a green hammock hung on it and I nursed Foster while he lay beside me in it in his diaper. We talked and he nursed and the wind blew really strong. Andrew came around the corner with my dinner and said, "Here you go lovers."

The second night was a lot like the first, raccoons hissing and maybe throwing up junk food in the woods while we tried to sleep. The kids slept so deeply after so much fun. We had hiked or played or walked to see deer, we had been moving all day. I laid there still in the tent. It was so quiet. And then, like a raging sea I would hear the mighty wind blow through hundreds of trees on those big mountain like hills, and then over the river and up the hill, finally making it to our tent, flapping like mad. The wind made me feel so small. Like one little baby tree. I kept waking and turning and scooting the little ones closer to me, in awe of sleeping in the wild, but ready for morning. Every morning felt a bit like a reward for making it through the night.

As I look back on our stories and pictures I just want to go back. I want to do the hard and the easy all over again. To get good at setting up and tearing down a campsite. To walk and hike with my kids and just enjoy them. To let the water and wind and sun wear me down and remind me how small I really am. There is something about camping that makes me feel a bit more human. Dirty and barefoot and sitting in the wild, remembering where I came from and seeing so much of the beauty that I had forgotten.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Balancing Act

I'm not too sure when my life started to feel like a series of highs and lows. I think back to life before I had kids, and it seems like I was just a kid myself, in college, trying to figure out the world and who I was in it. I was telling my counselor this last week that when I think back to college I remember being emotional, just as I am now, but having a lot more time to ride the "lows."  Low does not always mean negative. To me a low can be a time of great introspection, maybe sadness, and heaviness as well. I can remember being in elementary school and writing in a coloring book things that made me sad or confused, and then scribbling it all out with purple crayon. In college I would take a couple of days to ride the low, to write a lot, rearrange my room, work on an art project. Maybe it was actually the lows that allowed me to gear up for a "high" which are my times of great energy and excitement... full days, a happy heart, ready to take on the world with all my ideas.

As motherhood has continued my lows often look like just exhaustion, and the feeling of never really being able to leave the chaos. There is no time for days of pondering and writing. The children still need to be fed, bathed, loved and put to sleep. My mind often spins trying to process what I haven't had the chance to yet. If I get a full night sleep, I burst into energy, determined to accomplish my dreams that exhaustion has put a hold to.

Balance. That's the new goal. It has always been a goal for me. To just live my life in a fairly normal day to day fashion. This last week while sitting at a local cafe I ask my counselor, "Is it normal? Am I normal? These highs and lows? Am I just an emotional person?" Not that I really know if there is a normal I would want to strive for. But maybe, I need more guidance than I think. Her response was what it has been all along. I just have higher highs and lower lows. So the change and waves of up and down are much more noticeable compared to other people sometimes. Honestly I have always gotten a strange energy from the emotional rollercoaster that I ride. I wouldn't say that I am chasing the highs and lows, but more so that riding them births the ideas and passions inside. For me, (being 90% feeling on Myers Briggs) it's not so much about the emotional ride, but I honestly live a lot of my life out of emotion. I just can't help it.

But, I am coming to see that emotions, with highs and lows and then lack of sleep and small children can lead to a lot of unhappiness. Exhaustion, physically and mentally, which makes the lowers days really low. I've never really been close enough friends during motherhood with someone so similar to myself, or maybe I have and I just don't see it. I'd like to see those mothers though, how they balance the high energy days with the exhausted ones. I often write with the hope that my story is a small part of someone else's story, and that maybe through truth and vulnerability, connection and understanding becomes a part of both of our stories. To be a human is rough. I always feel so proud and sure until I realize I've been wrong about almost everything.

Talking with my counselor is my way of verbally unloading on someone and not feeling bad about it. Then I listen to her good ideas and figure out if I could do any of them. The last couple of days I have had the girls start their new "quiet time." It is basically a new and improved, more intentional way of keeping them quiet while Foster is napping. Instead of flipping on the tv and trying to clean and make coffee while they request snacks, each girl has a quiet time basket with little activities and books that only comes down for an hour or so each day. Rosemary sits on the couch, Blanche is in her room, Foster sleeps in my bed, and yesterday I drank my coffee in the sunshine. My first step to balance. Balance is really just being intentional about what I will need before I need it. Which I have never been good at. I am practicing the art of resting before I am exhausted. You know, to maybe prevent that low from dipping down so deep.

I would love to keep the highs. The other day while visiting my friend who just had a new baby, she looked up at me while holding the little baby on her chest and said with tired eyes, "You are like the Jack Russell Terrier of humans." It made me laugh so hard. I don't feel that high energy, but maybe I am on a good day. I hope that my highs morph into productivity and creativity as my kids grow and I am use to a good night sleep.

I find as I leave the "pregnant or new baby" stage I have been in for five years, that more balance is slowly coming. I have taken pride in the fact that small piles of toys and clothes are bothering me less and less. I am trying to use the days I feel rested to accomplish the extra work that needs to be done, but to be okay with a house that looks like it is lived in. I want Andrew and I to keep living out the passions and dreams we have for our life. I want to connect with nature and to raise my kids in it, but know that if we all hike three miles one day, we will probably need to rest the next.

Yesterday I took the kids to Free Forest School for the first time this year, and today as the rain pours down we've done our best to take the morning slow at home and work on our school a bit. The house feels like a mess and our quiet hour hasn't been perfect, but I am striving to find moments of stillness and rest, even with three small children. Connection and peace can come from times of rest, and we can build up energy for our higher energy days, where we are out hiking or swimming in the creek. For quite awhile it has felt like we have been in the process of moving or having a baby, but as we move out of survival state little by little, I keep hoping we find our rhythm and balance. To be swimming strong and not just barely have our heads above the water, or at least know what it means to rest in God and find ourselves loving those around us as ourselves.