For the past three years, I’ve been writing monthly letters to the girls as a way to chronicle their childhoods and show the threads of love woven throughout. As much as I enjoy reading other bloggers’ similar letters (that’s where I got the idea in the first place), I don’t usually post my own because I don’t want to censor the me that my daughters will end up reading one day. However, I think this letter can be an exception… mostly because I don’t feel up to re-writing this sucker. Whew.
Without further ado, I would like to present Part 1 (out of 37,156,044,192,518) of our epic summer camping trip to Scotland.
Sweet girls of mine,
One year ago, when your dad said, “Let’s camp our way to Ireland!” I laughed. Then I said, “He’s kidding, right?” Then I laughed some more. Then I said, “He’s not kidding.” Then I searched psychiatric help sites for Delusions of Travel before curling up in a ball and leaving the suitcases to pack themselves. (I blame our unfortunate lack of raincoats and fleeces entirely on them.) As you may recall, it rained fifteen days out of fifteen on that trip. We cooked pasta under umbrellas, woke up partially underwater, and aspirated mint tea to keep warm. One of us (name rhymes with SOPHIE) got skid marks on her face running pell-mell down a cliffside, and I had to buy blanket-sized tissues for my historical head cold that I no doubt passed on to the rest of you each time I spread peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with my fingers in the front seat. (I blame the unfortunate lack of table knives on the suitcases as well.) This year, however, when your dad said, “Let’s camp our way to Scotland!” I immediately began researching tent sites. Such is the growing power of Bassett insanity.
I hope that you girls inherit this knack for adventure; otherwise, this summer is liable to come up in therapy one day. A fifty-one hour drive has the potential to turn anyone into a card-carrying basket case, but a fifty-one hour drive involving seventeen cities, two ferries, eight campgrounds, three hundred and seventeen requests for bathrooms in the middle of Nowhere, Belgium, two guest bedrooms, one hidden apartment, seven hikes, and a delegation of hostile cows… well, maybe I should start from the beginning.
Our plan for the first day was to drive the few hours from your uncle’s in Milan to the city of Luxembourg where we would get ourselves delightfully lost in the casemates, nibble on plum tarts, and try to act like we speak one of its three national languages instead of two irrelevant ones. However, our plans were no match for the mighty traffic of Switzerland. While you girls marveled at the mountains (and discussed their eating habits, much to your parents’ amusement), we sat in traffic. While you napped, we sat in traffic. While you dissected your sandwiches, we sat in traffic. While you sang along to the entire They Might Be Giants’ “NO!” album several times over, we inched forward… then sat in more traffic. Once we finally arrived in Luxembourg, we barely had enough daylight left for setting up camp and eating supper. Of course, that didn’t stop us from jumping on the campground’s trampoline for an hour first. Responsibility has its limits, after all.
Day 2 was much more enjoyable, despite the stretch across Belgium which is so completely and mercilessly boring that one is tempted to stick a fork in one’s brain on the off-chance of seeing stars. We did have a few attention-grabbing moments when the fast lane narrowed to the width of an anorexic bike path, but we were still glad to board our ferry and wave au revoir to mainland Europe for two weeks. When we crossed the Channel last year, we took the Eurostar which was charmingly Seussical at first—in a car, on a train, under the sea, for a fee—but rather claustrophobic by the end. This year, however, we wised up (wose up? wizened up?) and paid a third of the price to cross the Channel in a floating internet café (yay! said your dad and I) with a colorful indoor playground (yay! said you already halfway up the rope ladder).
When I heartlessly insisted on going above deck for the last five minutes to see the cliffs of Dover, you allowed yourselves to be dragged, but neither principalities nor powers could convince you to look at the stunning scenery. Natalie, you protested the injustice of it all by collapsing onto a picnic bench and announcing to everyone on deck, “Please leave me alone; I am BASKING IN THE SUN.” Not to be out-dramatized, you, Sophie, promptly chimed in, “I’m basking TOO.” I took this to mean that the ferry was a hit. Oh, and I have to say, you two have excellent taste in protest activities.
Despite how much your dad and I like making you suffer, we set up camp that afternoon smack dab in a magic forest. True, the forest had only one tree, but the Fenland isn’t typically known for its foliage, and that one tree trumped all others in your world. The third most common question your dad and I were asked this summer (after “You’re driving where?” and “Just how far were you dropped on your head at birth?”) was “How do you manage camping with two young children?” This is our secret. It starts with “play” and ends with “ground,” and somewhere in the middle are the delighted squeals of girls exploring a magical treehouse while their parents set up camp and maybe even get a little unsupervised flirting in.
Actually, that’s not our only secret. We also heavily rely on a parenting strategy known as Wearing You Out. Here’s how it works: After callously insisting you come down from the treehouse for a delicious supper, we bring you to historic Cambridge for an evening stroll. We pass punts along the river, plot how to take over King’s College, squirm in front of the incredibly creepy Corpus Clock, and discover that British squirrels can swim. Oh yes, and we march a few miles. By the time we return to our tent, your minds have had their fill of amazing new sights, your bodies are properly exhausted, and you are only too happy to curl up in your sleeping bags and say goodnight to another brim-full day.