Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Well, Carlsbad, New Mexico, anyway. And methinks it is my Little Son.
Parksalot, Bodacious, the Hubster and I have kicked off our summer with a family camping trip. In less than 48 hours, we have driven to Carlsbad, rented a Kabin at the KOA, trekked to Sitting Bull Falls, toured the Living Desert, and made it home again. In extreme heat. Without showers.
Anyone who knows me knows I don’t camp. I like cool air, sparkling bathrooms, crisp linens, and room service. But am trying to be a good sport and cultivate a sense of outdoor enthusiasm for the sake of my children. The Hubster claims that only by using their bodies will my children actually learn how to be coordinated, strong, resilient. Things I am not. So my concession to “roughing it” was a Kabin and an ice chest full of champers.
Day One, we decided to trek to Sitting Bull Falls in the Lincoln National Forest. After impatiently waiting for an hour for the park to open, we were through the gates! In my mind, the falls awaited. Thundering down the mountainside, secreting caves where Daniel Day Lewis and mermaids frolicked. We sunscreened, stuffed pockets with water bottles and pottied one last time. As we wound our way toward the falls, we could hear the delighted shrieks of other visitors. Little Son couldn’t help himself and began to walk, then skip, toward the noise. The park has viewing decks where you can watch all the action, and this momma has to say she was grateful for the respite. It was 103 degrees and I wasn’t sure I was going to make the descent to the falls gracefully.
Now, the falls were not as I had pictured, more Zane Grey than Big Kahuna. But still, they were magic to Little Son. He thrilled to watch the water dance in the wind and he crept closer and closer to the rocky edges. We opted to cross at a shallow spot so he could play in the stream. It was slow, slimy going. Treacherous with shifting rocks, and I held my breath with every wet step in anticipation of being the Mom Who Fell at the Falls. But I made it to the bank, and got to watch Little Son and his sister play in the mud, chunking sticks and pebbles and rocks into the water. At 1, she is every bit the adventurer that her brother is and won’t be left behind. All too soon it was time to head back for naps. But I was stunned by how beautiful my children looked, sunlight reflected on faces and sweet flushes on cheeks. And I was a bit proud of myself once we were back in the cool comfort of the car. As I fished for compliments from the Hubster regarding my hiking skills, he humored me. “Yes, Melanie, you actually went hiking today. Hiking in the loosest sense of the word, but hike you did.” Yup, there are sidewalks and handrails and stairs there, but I won’t be robbed. The grandeur of the falls has grown in my mind, just like my sense of accomplishment and unparalleled athleticism.
Day Two had us racing against the clock to get to the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park before the heat and the wind picked up. While I know nothing about science and can’t prove my theory, I am sure that “stuff grows” after it has been unloaded from the car. I don’t know why things are so much harder to get back into the car. They are bigger, have given birth, and refuse to be folded into some semblance of order. After a frazzling pack-up and check out, the cheese sticks and milk are back on ice and we are rolling.
We get to the park, and the first thing we notice is that nothing is marked. In fact, lots of New Mexico seems to be lacking in directional signage. We park and head in the doors that we assume are the entrance doors. No sign, just a sweeping custodian to mark it as a port of import. Next thing, we are off on our mile and a half jaunt around the sanctuary. We are keeping our eyes peeled for the one-winged bald eagle, the arthritic big cat that walks with a limp and an elk with a rack that even reindeer would envy.
We also find hundreds of native plants, trees and cacti. For those into xeriscaping and desert landscaping, it is a beautiful refuge. But I am getting hot and sunburned. And the umbrella stroller we are using has a wonky wheel. In short, my vacay is starting to feel a little like, well, work. I am starting to sense that this trip that started out full of “ahhs” and “o looks!” is becoming harder and uphill. A lot like, well, parenting.
When suddenly, Little Son comes skipping up out of nowhere and offers to push the stroller for a while. He wants to be “my gentleman.” We come around the last bend on the path and find two pools filled with the most beautiful water lilies and lily pads I have ever seen. And this momma started to smile. It was a day that ended in surprise and color, sweetness and beauty. A lot like, well, parenting.