So we went on holiday last week to the Isle Of Wight and as soon as we started packing down the tent I started the mental de-brief ... the joys, my successes, the challenges and the things that I will learn from for next year and all the years after. Always the freaking de-brief ... life as a mama is a bit like that every day! But holidays in particular.
In my defence the weather was dramatic and not on our side really which makes camping challenging and expensive with small people bouncing like highly charged electrons off canvas walls and inflatable beds making this mama more than a little twitchy and despairing at times! As is the way of these things, now we are home these challenges are fading fast leaving photo's to pour over and joys to re-count.
The single thing I love most about camping is watching the children making friends, hanging out with other kids and lighting up as we offer them more freedom with their comings and goings than we do at home. They couldn't quite believe it when we started letting them go off together without us. It was a tense transition for me because whilst wanting them to experience the rush of a longer leash I am so crazy protective over them and all too aware of the dangers our wider world holds. The good feeling that indulging them brought me mostly outweighed the terrifying moments of 'what if'. I had to tell myself repeatedly that we are in a sort of enclosed community here - full of families, there are no roads they can access and there are other kids and adults on high alert as well. As far as places to let them of the leash go, this is probably up there with the best. And this time it worked out and I tried not to cramp their style yet show a loving and responsible interest in them.
And something special happened. I witnessed two souls, two kindred spirits - two halves of the same clay perhaps, recognise one another in one magical instant. I wasn't expecting it to be Gaia and nor that the spark would be between her and a boy double her age. Honestly as the week drew on and the strength of their bond and fondness for one another grew I was slightly in awe. She has only been Earthside 4 years this time but carries an old soul and I'm certain it's their souls that felt some deep old recognition. All week they were like this old married couple. They played, they hugged, he tousled her irresistible curls and made sure she knew the rules to games and was given a fair chance and empowerment and she followed him everywhere and evoked smiles and enthusiasm from him each minute they were together. They danced together at the disco, they ran to greet each other after separate days out and he rallied a fan club together for her when she sang in the karaoke on the last night. Dude that's another thing, she did karaoke! I mean it was her idea to get up on stage and sang baa baa black sheep watching an auto-cue she couldn't even read to a pub full of kids and grown ups, showing not a drop of fear! Man! she's going to do big things in this world if her confidence knows no bounds at age 4.
Me and the boy, we played chess. We played chess with the set my Grandma and Grandad gave me when I was just a year older than he is now. He concentrates, he remembers well but he is a terrible looser! Chess is teaching him not to be such a terrible looser as he must learn from mistakes to get better and more savvy.
And he was tamed by the sea. He shed his cares and dissolved the attitudes acquired in the last year at school. He was respectful of the sea's immense power and gradually integrated himself with the shore and the water like his Mama whilst Gaia of course went blazing in with bold confidence and defiance ... just like her Pa and those irresistible sausage curls dreaded tight in the salt water, she doesn't want to keep them though so I'm going to have a job tonight with the conditioner and a comb! We waded in shoulder deep each carrying one of the children and waltzed round and round in cool cleansing waters to my humming some waltz or other I played in the orchestra of my childhood.
We went rock pooling and found crabs and shrimps on Bembridge Beach where the waters are still and weirdly warm (Gaia's words!) and where forest abruptly and romantically meets the channel of water between mainland England and the 'Island Of Wight' as the kids called it. If it weren't for the mainland and the yachts in the distance it could so easily have been mistaken for a dessert island. Tiny shiny purple shells filled our pockets from that trip, shells we'll polish up and make into some sort of keep sake.
Then there were the evening walks just me and the kids ~ behind the land we were camped on in the valley where rolling hills generously colonised by Prussian green forests that come evening became consumed in low ethereal mist. Cows were grazing the public byway so we just had to drop and play ring-a-ring-a-roses a few times before we investigated hawthorn dens and rabbit holes, as we do.
And a spontaneous picnic Zander & I enjoyed outside the tent after a long day at the beach whilst the others slept the sun off ... it's just the little things we do that fill my pitcher up with joy.
It's the little things they do too, like writing love notes to Muvr Nachr (mother nature) for the Birch sister who gave us dappled shade and somewhere to string a washing line up
And mother nature tipped her hat right back as she put on the most fabulous last night show almost immediately after I tucked the bairns up after the karaoke in the shape of a proper south of england electrical storm, I mean like the ones we had when I grew up. I love me a good thunder storm, one that is so loud and and bright that it demands your unwavering attention. Tree splitting, world shaking, bass-bin booming thunder and theatrical strobe light displays, so much damn energy all around us out in that tent in the valley I was totally wired by the charged air and could not sleep a wink nor wipe a stupid grin off my face for hours. It took some conscious careful breathing techniques to get myself to sleep and had there not also been marching torrents of rain accompanying it I'd have been outside dancing in the storm I dare say.
I wouldn't say camping with two highly spirited imps is relaxing, no not at all. I'd say Cliff and I are still shattered, that the car isn't fully unpacked though we've been back 6 days now and I'm still working on holiday time - by where the sun is roughly in the sky rather than by what my clock says, meal times are up the spout and regular bed times are still nowhere to be seen. We have always camped so you would think we would be seasoned pro's by now. I love the idea of camping - the romantic vision of managing with less, living lightly in nature and the delusion we might all interact harmoniously this time surely ... but that isn't the reality. I'd say very soon we'll be purchasing a camper van! I wonder reflectively, as always, how the imps will remember this trip ... will it be the rain? the balmy beach day? the friends they made? the freedoms they were permitted? or me loosing my cool after the umpitninth time of asking for something to be done or not done? Will they remember camping fondly and insist on taking their own families in years to come? Who knows, what I do know is this; that perfect daydream family and holiday does not exist ... I need not cuss myself for the challenges I faced. I was not the only mama to struggle at times, I wasn't the only one to raise my voice or rebuke my children we are all in the same boat it is just that some of the crew are more experienced and capable at navigating the tides than others and thank goodness for that fact because it means there will always be someone there to inspire me to reach a little higher and push a little further and I love that.