Camping is supposed to be how our family recharges.
That’s not to say that everything about it is always relaxing or problem-free. Trying to get ready even for a weekend away with two adults, two kids, and two dogs takes planning and preparation, not to mention a couple hours of packing to make sure everything is in its proper place and all of the equipment is in good shape.
And this time our weekend camping plans added the complication of our daughter’s desire to take two friends camping with her for her birthday, making up for the last birthday campout that got canceled along with everything else at the beginning of COVID shutdowns. Adding to the weekend craziness? Our son also had a football game on Friday night and the closest camping spot that we could find was 120 miles away.
What followed was a full day of traveling up to the campground, parking the camper, returning home so that I could take the girls back up to the site and my husband could take our son to his football game; they would join us after the game.
We thought that was going to be the end of the challenges for the weekend. We would be able to eventually enjoy being in a beautiful spot for 36 hours before returning home to the regular busyness that we’ve allowed to return to our lives.
If only it had been that easy.
A massive storm cell ripped through Texas, bringing with it torrential rains that dropped inches of water per hour. Most of Houston was spared the worst of it and our son’s game was never canceled, but I was driving north with three 12-year-old girls, straight into the heart of the storms. While I never lost daylight, I still struggled to see the road for about 30 miles. When we finally arrived, I had to figure out how to feed three growing pre-teens without making my planned dinner because there was no way I could do it in the rain. By the time my husband and son arrived, they missed the worst of the storms and we could settle in for the night. I was so relieved that I was able to overlook the flickering lights overhead, passing them off as a result of the storms and nothing more.
If only that had been the case.
By noon our indoor lights were so dim that I turned them off. While the girls hiked and played games and our son set out to kill ants (I would be concerned but we live in Texas and most ants here are evil), my husband searched for the cause of our loss of electricity. By mid-afternoon, we had no working interior lights, no working inside refrigerator, and an air conditioner that couldn’t turn back on (thank goodness the weather had cleared into blue skies and lowered humidity). I tried to stay out of the way and help when I felt like I could be helpful (which wasn’t very often), reading while I waited for the call for assistance.
This was not how I wanted our camping weekend to go.
In our family, 2021 is giving 2020 a run for its money. I lost my job in January, an event that has turned our family life upside down as I try to work through what this means for my career and future and as we work through what this means for our family. There are so many emotions that go with it: feelings of failure, inadequacy, uncertainty, and fear of what the immediate future looks like. While I’ve slowly started grieving and processing the losses that came with the significant life change, I’m constantly looking for small wins. Those wins have been everything from having op-eds published to starting a new part-time job that allows me to try applying my teaching skills to an entirely different industry.
But none of that changes the fact that the things that have always defined who I am as a professional, a wife, and a mother have been completely turned upside down.
When you’re constantly reconstructing a house of cards, it doesn’t take much to blow it down. It’s not that I want to keep working with a deck of cards. I desperately want to be building with materials that are made of stronger stuff, I want to be building on firm ground, not shifting sand, and I want to stop fearing the next small storm that over a year ago I would have been able to dismiss. Back when COVID started to change our lives in ways that we hadn’t even begun to understand, when quarantines and shuts downs were a novelty that we believed would be over in a month.
And I know that I’m not alone.
I don’t know if it’s just my friends and family or if it’s the pandemic or if it is just the stage of life that we are in, but it feels like the majority of the people in my life are going through significant changes: job loss, divorce, issues with children, health problems, and everything in-between. When I’ve talked to friends over the last couple of months, it feels like so many of us are grasping for a sense of control that always feels inches out of reach. I’m constantly trying to avoid comparing my struggles with those of my loved ones because for all of us, the challenges are no competition; we all just want to get through them with our heads still above water.
And after a week or so of feeling like the ground underneath me was starting to move a little less, it took a series of challenges in a single weekend to knock me right back down again.
When you’re on a constant quest for small victories, small defeats can be crushing. And maybe that’s just what I was feeling. After all, some studies have shown that we need up to five positive experiences to outweigh a single bad experience. While that isn’t the case for every negative experience, the reality that many of us are dealing with is that we are just dealing with a lot.
And this past weekend was, for me, a lot.
But by the time we got home I was able to see the sunshine. The kids all had a wonderful weekend and we got through nearly 48 hours with three pre-teen girls without a significant amount of girl drama. I finished a book. My husband and son got to go kayaking and the three of us took several bike rides on the flat trails, giving me a chance to try out my mountain bike without any kind of drops that typically have me jumping off of the bike before I fall off. When we all got home, my husband and I drove to get the part to fix our camper and his tenacious desire to save us at least a thousand dollars in repairs paid off. The electrical problem is fixed.
And while the weekend had taken its emotional and mental toll on me, by the time the kids were in bed, we were both in the right state of mind to join a sibling group phone call to offer comfort to my sister-in-law. Suddenly, our now-resolved weekend worries seemed pale in comparison.
Sometimes accepting the unexpected means accepting that the current situation is just going to be a constant state of small victories and defeats for the time being. That doesn’t make it any better, but it gives me a place for the healing to start.