When the going got tough at home, I escaped for three days into the East County wilderness with my kids.
Upon famously living life in the woods, Henry David Thoreau declared that he could never have enough of nature. “Heaven,” he wrote, “is under our feet as well as over our heads.” For his thoughts on solitude and his piercing insight on minimalism, Thoreau has always been my guiding star. A native Upstate New Yorker, I spent many cold nights sleeping in a tent in the woods, and I admit I’ve burned books to stay warm. “Walden” was never one of them.
But here’s the thing about Thoreau, the patron saint of daydreamers, loners and tree huggers: he never had kids. He never harangued his five-year-old for kissing the neighbor girl. He never yanked a dirty diaper out of his dog’s mouth, or used tweezers to pull paper out of his toddler’s ear canal. He never burned rice because he was fishing Legos out of the toilet, and he was never roused at 6 a.m. by a light saber blow to the face. Thoreau didn’t need to go to woods to find solace. He already had it. Trust me.
My life – once the bohemian, writerly existence of an adventurous 20-something – is now an endless chain of spilled cereal, pediatrician visits, time-outs, laundry, car vomit and drive-thru chicken. As the harried mother of two boys, ages five and one-and-a-half, I have come to recognize that in between the nuggets, vomit and time-outs, are beautiful, fleeting moments of peace. The pioneer woman in me has always believed that these rapturous flashes happen when I’m outside with my kids. Maybe it’s because I have feral boys. Maybe it’s because I’m feral myself. Maybe it’s because I’m sick of duct taping all the broken stuff in my house and gorging on Advil amid the cacophony. Whatever the impetus, I decided on a whim, during spring break, to take my kids tent camping (alone) in East Manatee County. My husband, after spending one maddening Saturday consoling our older son, Henry, after our younger son, Chip, bit his brother and leveled his pillow fort, gave his enthusiastic blessing. “You know what you’re doing,” he said. “Have fun.”