They were sitting on the ground in a patch of sandy dirt, huddled together, focused on something that must be really intriguing, I thought. Why else would a 9 year old boy and his 7 year old sister be so content and quiet? As I got closer and peeked over their shoulders I was taken aback. Not what I expected. I was imagining there was some funky looking bug or maybe they had some hand held electronic device that kids these days are obsessed with. But no…..what they were focused on was creating the very best road system for their tiny little match box cars. There they sat, in the sun, all barefoot and dirty, happy and content as can be, just digging imaginary roads. I am guessing it was much more complex that it looked to me, you know how kids imaginations can be. But then again, with all the video games, etc. maybe things have changed. Anyway, I loved it.
This happened at a campground on Cape Cod where my husband and I were staying for a week with another couple. We had the perfect spot, secluded and right on a beautiful lake. Not a luxury vacation, but if you are the camping type, you would have loved it. The week long vacation was very different than the last vacation we took with our friends, a long trip to Italy where we stayed at beautiful places, with great food and good wine and lots of culture. Yes, this was different. No luxury here, nope. Not much culture, although campers might disagree with you, as well as Cape Codders. The “New England” feel is everywhere. But unlike our last trip, we were “roughing it”. No electricity, no running water at our site, the nearest bathroom facilities were a good walk up the hill, and the closest shower was a short car ride away (you could walk it, but you would need another shower by the time you got back).
Despite the lack of usual niceties, we had everything we needed. Two tents, 4 gravity chairs, fire pit, picnic table complete with checkered tablecloth and canopy in case it rained (it didn’t). We had our “camping kitchen” which provided extra counter space, storage area for pots, pans, paper plates and packaged foods, and then we had our coolers filled with ice and all the necessities to get us through a few days. We were spoiled with our air mattresses (that had to be inflated by running an extension cord into the bathroom, the only place with electricity), and we had 4 kayaks, 4 bikes, a double tube and a spare air mattress that we used as a float. Imagine 4 middle aged adults floating around a lake holding onto each other, a mattress, a float and 4 drinks, giggling as the wind blew this motley crew wherever if felt like. We were in our glory, feeling like kids again. The reactions we got from various people we eventually encountered were funny. Some you could tell wish they could join us. Others, well, kind of eased their children in the other direction.
It took a few days, but we got into the swing of things. As usual, I packed too many clothes. I pretty much lived in my bathing suit (the one I kayak in, which is basically shorts you can wear in the water with a modest bathing suit top that could double as a halter top. Really comfy yet practical). And my 5 dollar Old Navy flip flops. Never wore a pair of earings, no make-up needed (no mirrors anyways). I washed my hair twice, why bother when you will be jumping in a lake every day? Yes, it was a wonderful feeling. Feeling like a kid again. Simple and Free.
Even when it came to eating, things were different. First of all, I have a new appreciation for my automatic coffee maker…..you know, the kind that grinds the beans and has the coffee ready a few minutes before the alarm goes off? We did have coffee, we made sure of it, but it was no easy task. First of all, I was always up first. Even though we rarely knew what time it was, my body knew it was past 6 am so I woke up (our cell phones kept dying, no way to charge them consistently). If you have ever used a camping type stove, you know they run on propane. So you have to hook it up, then open the stove which clanks and clicks, and then use a lighter to start the thing, and finally, fill the pot with water. We had the old fashioned stove top percolator, so it always took awhile. When it came to meals, we were all on different body clocks so that took some doing. I like something sweet when I first get up, so one day I took my bike on the bike trail down to a wonderful French bakery called something like “Eat Cake for Breakfast”. Ok! There usually is a long line but not at 8 am. Everyone was happy with the treats I brought back that day. We were so random with our meals, without schedules or clocks it was truly natural eating. Buying the exact food we wanted (I NEEDED fried scallops, my husband NEEDED fried clams, my friend NEEDED ice cream). We ate what we wanted. We savored the specialties of the Cape which included lots of fish and home made ice cream and of course those Cape Cod potato chips. We all brought food too, and the meals we created at the camp site were sometimes funny….but delicious. We doctored up leftovers to be resourceful. One of the last nights I created a dish made with ratatouille, leftover grilled chicken, fresh corn scraped from leftover corn on the cob and grated cheese. Everyone loved it. I made a sangria with leftover fruit and red wine along with some bruschetta from Italian bread that was getting stale. After this wonderful meal we rushed to the bay to watch yet another sunset and play our lawn game, Kubb, Check out this link which can also be played on the beach : ) We blasted our music (old Beatles tunes one night), sipped our drinks, laughed as the sun disappeared and the moonlight took over. Walked barefoot, back to the car, another wonderful night spent without jewelry or make-up, shoes or clocks, TV’s or computers. Just the sky, the water, the sand, the stars, fire and friends.
I am not going to lie. That first real shower felt good. Sleeping in my own bed was awesome, and it was especially great to have a bathroom within walking distance. But since coming back to reality, and after chatting to a few family members and friends about my trip, it struck me how fortunate we were to have the ability to enjoy ourselves despite the lack of structure or predictability, the absence of technology or schedules for anything, from eating to exercise to reading and sleeping. We may have joked about those stairs up the hill leading to the bathroom, and how crazy it was to have to drive to take a shower, but the reality is we loved having an excuse to be kids again, to feel free, and to be free. We obviously can’t live this way every day (you really do need to wash your hair and wear shoes). But, how structured and predictable do we really need to be? Do you find yourself panicking if you can’t eat what you think you should? Do you get bothered if things aren’t perfectly clean and in order? Are you imprisoned by needing everything in your life to be on a tight and predictable schedule? Do you ever give yourself permission to let things go “just because”? Do you allow yourself down-time to reflect, or simply to just walk barefoot and feel the grass against your feet, and the sounds of nature to fill your head instead of the sound of television? Do you get to play mindless games like Left Right Center, or do you feel guilty when you are not productive?
Yes, this morning, being that it is my last Monday morning off in a long time, I am truly feeling thankful. I am appreciating that I can let go and be mindless, eat whatever, do whatever, live without a mirror or make-up or jewelry, not wash my hair, have French cookies for breakfast and not care. I don’t mind admitting I love my bed! and my own bathroom! But sometimes pushing your comfort zone makes you appreciate all that you do have even more. And sometimes, not accomplishing anything is a wonderful thing. Can you do it? How free are you?
Here’s my challenge: pick a day, just one day this week that you don’t have a “to-do” list. Eat whatever you want. Do whatever you want. Wear whatever you want. Let yourself be free. Just one day.