We went camping this past weekend.
When our friend called us on Friday afternoon and asked if we would be up for camping "sometime" and we tossed out the idea of leaving on Saturday, he couldn't believe that we would be so spontaneous as to pack up the children and a tent and leave on less than 24 hours notice.
Clearly he doesn't know us very well.
Charlie and I used to camp all the time, but this is the first time we have taken our children camping. Probably by the nature of studying geology, we spent a large portion of our college experience in 'the field'. We love spending time in nature and sleeping outdoors, away from noise and light.
After driving two hours to the north and ascending curvy mountainous roads, we unloaded the car at our camp site and Elizabeth promptly threw up the contents of her stomach. Thankfully, she was sick the moment after she stepped out of the vehicle and not the moment before while she was seated inside, because vomit coating our equipment that was squeezed in to every square inch of car space might have meant an immediate end to our outdoor adventure.
Our friend has three children under the age of five - so together with our four children under the age of four - we had seven small children running around and playing. But at one point, Charlie and I decided that if we had been on this trip - alone with our children - it would have been a lot less stressful and more enjoyable. It seems the combination of new children plus our children created an energy level that now as I'm thinking back on it, just hurts my head. My head hurts even more when I think of Carolyn opening our friend's cooler and intentionally crushing her finger in to several of their eggs that just moments before, they had told me they planned to use for a "special" breakfast.
Although we both have a lot of small children, we have triplets.
Our friend does not.
This weekend, I realized just how much work triplets really are. They are more than "just" three kids. The level of effort is exponential. Three children. The same age. The same wants. The same competitions. The same idiosyncracies because of their developmental stage.
Our friend has taken off the past several years from his career to stay home with his children where he works with them extensively on reading, writing and math. He grows all of his own food organically, and is teaching them to play various instruments. He and his wife are teaching their children to be trilingual, since they speak English, Gujarati Hindi and Punjabi, interchageably at home. They are doing an incredible job of raising their children, but when my friend told me that his children have never thrown a temper tantrum because they don't know what a temper tantrum is, I felt like kicking him in the shins.
At one point, I looked over to see him sitting down quietly with his four-year old son and quizzing him on the curriculum of a First Grade activity book while our children were laying face down licking dirt.
No sooner had we started a fire and I was desperate to get our kids to bed. Instantly, my visions of keeping the children up late in to the evening and wrapped warmly in a blanket so we could star gaze, dissolved.
Their lack of an afternoon nap and over indulgence on sugar caused them to run around the camp site with their arms literally waving over their heads while shouting "ARGHARGHARGH!"
I sensed it was the perfect storm brewing and I could just see children falling one after the other directly in to the fire pit. So, while I was sitting nursing Henry at the campfire with our friends, Charlie was trying to get the children in their pajamas. They were so crazy excited to be in a tent, they were bouncing around and pushing each other to and fro.
At one point, Carolyn shoved William who smacked in to Charlie's face and sent his glasses flying. Charlie yelled, all eyes and flashlights from the campfire quickly turned up to see what was happening and when I went to investigate, I found my husband, terribly flustered and ready to wrap the kids in tent line.
Fresh from sitting with our friend and his prodigal children who were calling out all the capitols of the United States, I approached the tent with a gentle and quiet mind. Having been separated from the children for a good 10 minutes prior to that outburst, I had summoned patience and was better able to interface with our children than my husband, who had been subjected to their bedtime ritual insanity.
When I walked up to the tent, I actually said, "Hello Children. Let us all be peaceful loving souls on the earth, Kumbaya."
They just looked at me and I could see their beautiful blue eyes spinning in their heads. Instantly, I could feel myself being sucked in to their vortex of crazy and then someone sat on the potty and in a fit of acting goofy, proceeded to dump a bottle of water all over themself and their dry pajamas and I cracked like Jimmy Corn.
The words I started yelling didn't even make sense. But then again, dumping WATER on yourself when you are CAMPING and it gets COLD at night and you only have ONE pair of pajamas doesn't make sense, either. For the second time in less than five minutes, all the flashlights at camp were again on our tent.
I could just imagine what our friends were thinking. "Peace Loving Man. What is with those kids? Who is in control over there? Our children would NEVER behave that way."
Charlie and I got the kids situated inside the tent, duct taped the zipper close, and returning to the camp fire, opened up our bottles of beer which we then drank down faster than we've ever drank down beer. We then talked animatedly about being admitted to a mental institution and laughed like we were crazy.
It continued to get dark and our friend queried his four-year-old son, "What continent is Saudia Arabia on? What about Germany? Afghanistan? India?" Then he turned to astronomy. "What is the smallest planet? What is the largest? What are the planets in order from the sun?" Then on to math. "What is four plus four? What is eight plus two? What is twelve minus eight?"
"Who is the 43rd President of the United States?"
An hour or so later Charlie and I retired to bed feeling like the worst parents ever. Our kids don't know what continent they live on and I suspect they would be easily convinced that we are citizens of Pluto. They have a slight grasp of math, because they all seem to want FIVE of whatever it is we are having. Five strawberries. Five grapes. Five cookies.
Our kids certainly know what temper tantrums are and they know how to throw a good one. If I sat them down with an activity book, it would just be a matter of time before they tore out the pages and ate them. Charlie and I lose our patience and we get extremely frustrated. Sometimes, it seems that the ONLY way we can regain control of a situation is to channel the alphadog.
Sometimes, reward stickers and time outs just don't cut it.
The next morning, when one of our children was in the process of throwing themself on the ground for a temper tantrum, I ashamedly picked them up and quickly took them to the car where we set off on a 20-minute drive. Charlie remained behind at camp with our other three children.
But when I returned from the drive, my husband had a sparkle in his eye and a spring in his step. He pulled me aside to say that one of our friend's children had tried to reach in to their cooler and pull out various food items. The mother had said no. The father had said no. But the child persisted. And then, the mother - the patient, calm, yogi master - started breathing fire from her nostrils. She snapped at her child in a demonic voice while her husband desperately pleaded, "Walk away. Walk away!"
But she didn't walk away.
She stood her ground and a monster emerged.
An ugly, beautiful monster that suddenly didn't make us feel like the worst parents ever, anymore. When Charlie excitedly relayed this story to me, I felt warm with love, compassion, understanding, comraderie. And I did what any person who tries to feign oblivion to a nasty situation would do.
I walked up to my friend who was still fuming and placing my two hands palm together, bowed my head and unsuccessfully trying to suppress my laughter, whispered "Namasté."
Life is good and I honor the Spirit in you which is also in me. Especially that spirit that goes CRAZY when provoked by small people.
And to think ... they almost had us totally fooled.