Tuesday morning we were rushing to get out the door. Running late for school again. My bright red raincoat was still damp from the weekend’s camping trip out at Fort Stevens State Park on the Oregon coast. But I grabbed it anyway. Later, standing at school drop-off and waiting for the bell to ring, I fumbled about the pockets hunting for my keys. Instead of keys, I dragged out a handful of slim silver and maroon tent stakes.
Surrounded by neatly dressed moms and dads heading off to work, my muddy shoes felt a tad conspicuous. In the past few months, I’ve had some insecurity about the rather unconventional path I’ve taken. I’m a single mom, with two kids, and I don’t have a traditional job. Rather, I’ve chosen the freelance writer life. It’s stressful hunting for new work. It’s not a 9-5 with a place to go and a reason to dress nicely. I don’t have a partner to turn to for support when the kids get sick and a deadline looms.
What this means is that our house is usually in a constant state of disarray. After this latest camping trip to Fort Stevens, was worse than usual in our tiny house. Piles of damp sleeping bags filled the space in front of the couch, tent and rainfly hung to dry on the shower rod in the bathroom, muddy boots were strewn across the floor, and dirty dishes filled the sink. No clean laundry in the house, and practically out of groceries.
Single parenting is hard. There’s just never enough time to do it all. Something is always getting left undone. And that has to be okay. That morning, standing with tent stakes in my pocket and muddy shoes, I was exhausted and cranky. Our camping trip hadn’t exactly gone to plan and I’d spent two freezing wet nights half-asleep on the top of a picnic table under a leaky canopy. Throwing soggy gear into the back of the car to come home, I had some choice words for myself about my life choices. I still hadn’t quite kicked the grumpiness by Tuesday morning.
As I listened to the kids talking with their friends though, something began to shift. They were talking about all the fun they’d had stomping in the rain, and braving the gusty winds of an Oregon coast beach. They weren’t thinking about the cold, or how we brought the wrong tent. They were focused on the fun they had, and telling their friends all about it. A couple moms asked me, “Did you really camp in that rain this weekend?!” “Yup,” I replied. “And it ended up being pretty epic!”
The grumpiness slipped away as I realized we were doing exactly the thing that I’ve set out as a goal for our family. I want the kids to not be intimidated by discomfort, to find joy even when things get tough. I want our family to explore wild places and find our own path. I don’t want to be typical. And I don’t want our life to be one long boring routine.
I may have been miserable those two nights, and my house might be a stunning disaster, but that’s okay. Clothes will dry, mud can be washed away, and a hot meal fixes just about everything at the end of a long day. I choose to be the mom with tent stakes in her pocket because that’s the life that makes me happiest. I choose to be the mom with muddy shoes at school drop-off because high heels don’t work on mountain trails. I choose to do the best I can with this chaotic mess that we call home because in that mess, there’s memories being made. I choose tent stakes.