My starry-eyed dream of a leisurely paddle though pine forests has somewhat dimmed since my nephew Jacob spent ten days canoeing at a Boy Scout facility called Northern Tier.
The Boy Scout's embrace many a pithy slogan. First and foremost is, of course, Be Prepared. Another is Leave No Trace Behind. National Parks and other scenic areas post a flowery version of this Scout principle: Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints.
Northern Tier takes this very seriously indeed. Jacob tells me they ate their meals, poured a small amount of water into their mess kits, scraped the kits, and then proceeded to consume what they had scraped.
This, friends, captures why it is Sacajawea, not Kelly, engraved on a dollar coin to memorialize her role in the Lewis and Clark expeditions. I love the great outdoors . . . just not that much.
We are now at the tail end of our Christmas sojourn to the great white North. I am happy to report that it has been mostly great and altogether white.
For many years I was the maiden aunt of the family. I required little space, little food, and was actually quite a big help. I hunted down missing socks, styled hair, wiped faces, generally corralled and assisted with the little people. Like a good Scout, I left no trace behind. Then along came Dave and then Tim and eventually Kolbe. We were still a small family, easily squished into a single room, leaving little trace behind.
Now we are a family of six. We don't travel light, not even close to light. I'm all about everyone fitting their belongings into one small, carry-on style suitcase. Then Tim hands me his shoes. Sneakers and a pair of dress shoes and the bag is pretty much full. This year, for the first time, we used a car top carrier. The van was packed to the gills even with additional square feet of storage on the roof.
We make quite an entrance, whether we want to or not.
On leaving, I always hold on to the Boy Scout adage Leave No Trace Behind. It's a challenge, really it is, to bring twelve suitcases, assorted back packs, cold weather gear, and acquired Christmas gifts, stay in three different homes, and leave the state with all your belongings intact. Around February 1st or so, we usually receive a package with a tiny sock or two, a few books, a single glove, a collection of all we've left behind.
Two summers back, we endured that ill-fated and lengthy visit to Canada when Leave No Trace Behind failed us miserably. Ainsey and John were then one and three, Trouble and More Trouble, Mess and Bigger Mess. We left lipstick on the walls and permanent marker on a table. A nameless someone wet a bed that, sadly, had no mattress pad.
We added Febreeze to the packing list.
Since that trip, I have been hyper-aware of the noise, the complications, and the mess that, despite our best intentions, are inevitable when you add six people to any household.
This year it wasn't an an ill-behaved two-year-old or a newly potty-trained three-year-old that was our undoing. No, on Christmas night Santa Claus wasn't all that came to town. So did the stomach bug. Around 1:00 a.m. Ainsley climbed into our bed, gave a little cough which morphed into an enormous earp and sent cousin Megan's Chocolate Yule log spraying all over Auntie Karen's bed spread that, I am unhappy to report, was labelled Dry Clean Only. Thirty-six hours and seventeen loads of wash later we departed Auntie Karen's house leaving, I'm sure, a few traces behind. Hopefully, norovirus was not among them.
And that was just the warm-up.
We moved into Dave's parents' house Saturday night, and woke up to the sound of John sick in the bathroom. And then Tim. And then Kolbe. And Kolbe was nearly comatose and sleeping -- drum roll, please -- on a sofa bed. Yes, a sofa bed. Most parents are only too well acquainted with the challenge of de-toxing a car seat after a G.I. upset. Trust me, a car seat is mere child's play compared to a sofa bed. Another seventeen loads of laundry, two scrub brushes, and one steam cleaner later, I think we're close to finished.
As I've written before, the great trek North costs us something. On trips like this one, I'm all too aware that it costs our hosts something as well.
So I focus on the positives:
- Asking Ainsley to sled down the hill with me and hearing, "No! I ride with Megan!", her sweet cousin who was always careful to keep Ainsley from face-planting in a pile of snow.
- Hearing Papa read, "I think the most likely reason of all was that his heart was two sizes too small" to the sole granddaughter of the clan who appears at Papa's side with a stack of books in hand.
- Hanging out with the oldest grandson of the Dolin clan who was once one of the gang of blond-haired boys riding Big Wheels and is now a witty and intelligent twenty-one-year-old interested in science and politics and language.
- Witnessing Ainsley's delight as cousin Lissi, fashion maven, painted her fingers and toes bright pink.
- Watching all the boy cousins whipping around Auntie Karen's farm on snowmobiles.
Not all the traces we leave behind require Lysol and an anti-emetic.
I would end on that uplifting, saccharine sweet note, but the plague has now hit Dave. So instead I'll leave you with a quote from Simcha Fisher on dealing with sick husbands:
The worst part was that he only had me to take care of him. I can be nurturing for as long as ten or eleven minutes at a time, but beyond that, I find sick people irritating. As you can imagine, I then feel horribly guilty about that, and take it out on the sick people. So, the moral of this story is, get the hell away from me, with your pain and suffering. I mean, would you like some orange juice? Or tea? No? Well, then I guess I’ll go shovel the driveway ALL BY MYSELF, with no one to help me.To quote another deep thinker, "If we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane."