For reasons too dull to detail, I do not camp, but spouse and the children love to camp.
Nature, in all it's glory, is best viewed from behind a double glazed window, close to a grate ablaze with a glorious fire and a pot of tea near to hand. [translation = “tamed”]
They camp once a year, overnight. They camp with a family who have been our close friends for a long time. In previous years, I have spent the time alone, making up medical insurance packages for each boy; sorting the bills into date order, child order, therapist order, 13 sessions per week. An empty house means enough floor space for this paper trail.
I anticipate this time with glee, no responsibilities whatsoever for approximately 36 hours, depending upon the traffic. I always doubt that I will manage to complete my paper trail before they return, that they will explode into the house and that my carefully stacked piles of paper will become so much tickertape.
After they have been gone for between four or five hours, the paperwork is complete, because I am far more efficient that I thought I was. Completion of the paperwork permits me another 31 hours to debate whether they will be eaten my Grizzly bears, nibbled by raccoons, bitten by mosquitoes or catch the plague from black squirrels. I have ample time to check weather conditions and perseverate over whether they have enough sun screen and umbrellas.
I know that under the “Muse's” tender care, all will be well. On the other hand, I distinctly recall her having to endure meltdowns due to her complete inability to create a perfect pancake on a woodfired stove, in a clearing in the forest. Fortunately, her advanced skills of perception quickly interpreted 'hand washing' to be translated into some form of perverse punishment for junior. [translation = OCD gone bad]
I think these thoughts in the wee small hours, 24 hours prior to the commencement of the trip. I have awoken because of …………something or other? I leave my bed to investigate. A small person is parked on the throne. [translation = stomach flu] He has a temperature. [translation = fever]
“Why I am ill?” he asks with perfect eye contact. I contemplate the previous 24 hours, mining for clues, food, activities, company.
“I think you swallowed too much pool water,” I suggest with a certain degree of confidence. “Do you remember that you learned how to do somersaults underwater yesterday?”
“Do you remember how many you did?”
“That's right! Good remembering. Do you also remember that you didn't hold your nose?” I still cannot believe that is possible, but I was there to witness the endless tumbling and flailing.
“That means you swallowed several gallons of pool water, with all those chemicals. Can't have done your tummy any good.”
I am in mid clean up when other frail person shadows me. Tummy ache. I tuck two smallish people onto the sofa, so that I can keep an eye on both and simultaneously clean up. Whilst she also did somersaults, there was no water consumption. Are the two incidents related? This provides evidence of parental misconduct. They both partook of the same supper prepared by the head chef. This means that I have poisoned two of my children.
I grab emergency bowls, old bath towels and buckets from the garage. I align my equipment ready for eruptions.
A third wastrel appears. This last small person is fit and well and tired and lonely. [translation = due to the invisible cord between “siblings”] Although he did not eat the same supper, my tired brain interprets his wellness as further evidence of food poisoning. He approaches with caution to announce, “hello, I am wet!” although there is no pause between the ‘hello’ and the rest of his statement. It is an oddity of speech that makes ‘hello’ sound like the name of a person who is being addressed and notified of information – ‘John I am hot.’
“Why are you wet dear?”
“Oopsie! I accidentally peed on my bed!” Two sick children giggle on the sofa. I want to be cross but his delivery was so impeccable I crumble. No meltdown, no incoherence. I strip him down and wash him off. I tuck the well one on the sofa with the ill ones, because any cross contamination is sure to have already occurred during the course of the night, regardless of the original source. I have three little cocoons rolled up in blankets on the sofa, nose to tail.
I hear the plumbing system spring into action upstairs. Spouse appears. He stands in the middle of the room to rake his hair with his fingers.
“What happened?” he enquires drowsily after completing four and a half hours sleep, and no supper, either at work or at home, “and where's the toilet plunger?”