My husband is out of town until Tuesday. Every year all the PA's converge on some destination city for a week-long conference where they gain required continued education classes and network. EVERY year it's over Memorial Day weekend. And EVERY year, I complain. It seems like such a terrible time for a conference and it puts Curt in a conundrum - get his CME or kick off the start of summer with his family. Our solution is that he goes every-other-year and this is his year to go.
Nights and weekends are our family fun time. Daddy's arrival from work is our unspoken release from all regulations and we play until bedtime. When Curt is gone we notice his absence most prevalently during play time. To make it easier on all of us, I try to schedule out-of-the-norm fun things for us to do. The time passes quickly and it forces me to stop working and have fun with the kids.
Last night, we rented Bedtime Stories, bought movie theater candy, and popped corn in our new popcorn popper. I am not a TV watcher. I waste my time on the computer, not TV, so when it came time to start the movie, I was completely dumbfounded. I managed to get the DVD in the right slot and push play, but with the cable box, the TV, the surround sound and the DVD player all with separate remotes, I was completely lost. Befuddled. I pushed this button and that button. Tried this remote and that remote. Prayed. Got angry. Tried again. 20 minutes into the ordeal, and feeling like a complete idiot, I finally pushed the magic button and got all the machines to talk to each other and play the movie on the TV. I felt so empowered, but my fiasco set us back considerably and it was 10 p.m. before the kiddos headed to bed.
This morning, we made waffles and scrambled eggs and plotted out a trip to the coast. I wanted to hike Cascade Head. It promised breath-taking views of the ocean from the summit and with temps topping the low 60's, it would be a perfect day to get a little exercise and fresh air. The kids wanted to play on the beach. For those who haven't been to the coast, "playing" means schlepping lunch and various paraphernalia down a steep trail to the sand. Setting out a picnic and trying to consume a larger ratio of food than sand. Refereeing as the kids make sand castle and inadvertently fling sand in each others eyes and everywhere except where they want it to go. Shouting instructions that dissipate into gale force winds to kids, running in the opposite direction, who can't hear them anyway. Since I was driving and had ultimate power, I vetoed playing at the beach and insisted that we hike first.
The kids helped me pack a picnic lunch and we filled at least 20 water bottles for drinking. Each kid packed their own backpack complete with towel, extra change of shoes and clothes, and miscellaneous toys to keep them occupied on the hour-and a half drive. We filled the van with gas, stopped at the Dollar Tree to buy new sand buckets and lollipops, and headed out of town.
When we travel, we sing. A lot. We have a pretty even mix of kid and adult CD's in the car, so we started with a grown-up CD. We sang and drove and enjoyed the beautiful day. When the adult CD was over, we switched to our favorite kid CD and cranked it. I giggled when I looked in the rear view mirror and saw Katie and Alli,with matching braids singing loudly, "M-O-M-M-Y needs C-O-F-F-E-E" and bobbing their heads in synchronized rhythm to the beat. My heart swelled with love and I started to get excited about spending the day with the kids.
We pulled into the parking lot at Roads End State Park shortly before 1 p.m. for a potty break and a quick check of the map. Since this is our typical place to "play" in Lincoln City, the kids were a bit grumpy and put off when I insisted they get back in the van to reach our hiking destination. I had missed our exit and we were forced to back track the exact route we had just traveled. The kids moaned and complained and I felt myself getting crabby and second-guessing my decision to go hiking with them.
We pulled into the parking lot of Savage Park and I groaned inwardly. The primary function of the park was a boat ramp that led into a slew of water that fed into the ocean. There were parking spaces, two garbage cans, an outhouse, and a grassy field without picnic tables. We pulled out our picnic and a blanket I always keep stashed in the car, and sat down for our feast.
On the outside, it appeared that we were having fun, but inwardly I was getting really grumpy and uptight. The responsibility of keeping the kids safe on a hike through the woods weighed heavily on me. Typically Curt functions as the navigator and even though I knew I was capable, it was a role I hadn't played in a long time. The trail was not stroller-friendly and Paige is only three years old. She is usually a sure bet to fall asleep in the car, but today she foiled my plans and stayed wide awake the entire drive. We would be hitting the trailhead right when she normally is beginning her two-hour nap and I was concerned that taking her anyway would be a disaster. Alli poured her entire water bottle for drinking into her sand bucket and then dumped it on the ground. She also accidentally grabbed her open Gogurt from the wrong side and squirted the sticky substance all over the picnic blanket and hiking bag. Katie, who had protested having braids, lost one of her rubber bands and you would have thought the world was falling to pieces with the way I over-reacted about it. Grant and Alli rough-housed and struggled to follow simple instructions. At the rate they were going, I was certain they'd send each other catapulting over a cliff.
I just couldn't get a grip on my attitude. Mean Mommy reared her ugly head and I heard myself barking orders, over-reacting and being flat-out unkind to the kids. I'm not sure why, after so much trial and error and failure in this area, I didn't just immediately stop, confess my sin to God and to the kids, ask the Holy Spirit to help me and move along. But no. I fumbled along in sin for a good 20 minutes or so before I finally realized what a jerk I was being. I told the kids I was sorry and asked them to forgive me, which they graciously did. As God renewed my spirit, I felt peace to forge ahead with our plans.
The brochure I read said our planned round trip was 4.2 miles with an elevation gain of 1,200 feet. I didn't really think Paige would make it that far, but figured we'd hike until she got tired and then turn around. Grant and Katie found walking sticks, Alli didn't care enough to look for one, and Paige just held my hand. Grant struck out as our leader and we followed him up the narrow path. It was clearly marked, but never more than 3 feet wide. The narrow path zigged and zagged up the mountain. We crossed over streams on little bridges and walked up steps made from tree roots. The steepest part was a huge stairway consisting of tree roots with man-made steps filling in as needed. It was a tough climb, but little Paigey just kept climbing.
She and I talked about The Little Engine That Could and she started muttering, "I fink I can, I fink I can, I know I can." She walked and walked and walked. We'd holler at Grant, our leader, to stop and wait when she'd lag behind, but she never gave up. She started fervently complaining as we approached the summit, but given the close proximity to the top, I encouraged her to keep on. I didn't want her to miss out on the reward of seeing how far she'd climbed. She plodded on, a lot less cheerfully, but still muttering, "I fink I can, I fink I can."
The view from the summit was breath-taking. We could see the slew where we started. The Coastal Mountain range. The Pacific Ocean and it's rocky shore. The mountain we were climbing, melting into the foothill behind it and the one behind it. We saw a storm moving in and the view of further mountain ranges blurred through the clouds.
My kids made it the entire 2.1 miles to the summit and we enjoyed our reward, sort of. Grant and Alli got into an elbowing match over who was going to be the leader and they both ended up in time out, sulking on the side of the trail, while I took a bazillion pictures. They made things right with each other and we all tried to muster up the strength to cheerlead Paige back down the mountain with Katie as our newly elected leader.
Poor Paigey. She didn't know she had to walk back down to the van and she completely and entirely fell apart. Physically and emotionally exhausted, she was reduced to a pathetic, bawling mess. I hugged and kissed her. Stroked her hair and told her how proud I was of her. Bribed her with her nukie. I knew if I started carrying her, I'd have to carry her the entire way down and I wasn't sure I could carry her for two miles. Plan B was to half-carry, half-push her down the trail. It wasn't wide enough for us to walk side-by-side, so she walked in front, clinging to my hand as I supported her back and lifted her down the steep parts.
She cried most of the way down and when my heart was about to break for her, I finally gave in and carried her. She put her little head on my shoulder, threw her arms around my neck, and gave me a running commentary of everything she saw behind her. We'd walk like this for a bit, then I'd pep talk her and put her down to walk some more. She'd take a few steps and start whining, "My wegs don't work. I can't do it." We would all assure her that she indeed COULD do it. She was our Little Engine That Could. Determination would set in, she'd walk a few more paces, start crying, and I'd pick her up to start the process again.
When we finally made it back to the van (2 1/2 hours later), I thought I might cry. I was so proud of all the kids for conquering such a difficult hike. Grant, Katie and Alli had their moments but overall never made a peep about wanting to stop. It was Paige I was concerned about. I felt like she had been pushed way beyond her limit and it was all my fault. Until I saw the smile on her face. She was beaming from ear to ear, thrilled with her massive accomplishment and posing for pictures with her thumb way up.
We finished off our picnic lunch in the van and headed back to Road's End State Park for the aforementioned "play time." It lived up to my expectation. The wind was whipping and it felt much colder than the 55 degrees on the thermometer. Sand flew all over and into everyone's eyes. Paige and I sat and shivered on the beach, while Grant, Katie and Alli ran on the sand, built sand castles and played in the driftwood, but we all knew better than to go in the frigid water.
After an hour on the beach we hit the local 60's Cafe for a hot, greasy, dinner. When our bellies were full, we made one last stop. Starbucks. Cause Mommy needs coffee.
Paige was asleep in under ten minutes. Katie and Alli held out much longer than expected. We listened to music and sang and I sipped my grande cappuccino with an extra shot and a sprinkle of cinnamon. 45 minutes into our journey home and just about the time I took my last sip of coffee, I glanced in the rearview mirror. The two heads that synchronized hours earlier to the rhythm of "M-O-M-M-Y needs C-O-F-F-E-E" were now doing the falling asleep head bob. Alli's head flopped to the center first. There she sat, sound asleep with her head bobbing up and down. Then Katie's head flopped. First to the window, then to the center. Amazingly, it rested right on top of Alli's and there the synchronized head bobbing stopped. Katie's head nestled on top of Alli's in sleep's sweet surrender.
I felt my heart again swell with love for these precious children God has entrusted to me. The momentary grief of my behavior earlier in the day was washed away by God's cleansing reminder that both He and the kids had so graciously and easily forgiven me. I was free to embrace the love that warmed me. And when the peace ended with Alli slapping Katie's face in her sleep, I knew God (and that extra shot of coffee) would give me the grace to finish strong.