Reid Doughten | Longreads | September 2017 | 12 minutes (3,073 words)
It’s dark and I’m sitting beside the smoldering remnants of sausage fat and cocoa powder. My kids roll around noisily in a tent behind me. I can hear my son try to reason with his younger sister, a bedtime dialogue marked by grunts and half-English. She cries out every now and again, fighting the sleepiness which, by god, must surely win out.
I’ve ventured into Virginia’s George Washington National Forest to go camping with my kids — ages 1 and 3 — and I elect to do this without the help of my wife. She’d started working full time as a nurse several months before, including back-to-back 12-hour shifts every other weekend, while I was working a standard Monday-to-Friday schedule. And so for the first time since my children were born, I was left to solo parent for two days every other week. How hard could it be?
After several weekends, the answer was clear enough — it can be incredibly hard. Set aside the notion of treating time off of work as time “off.” Understand that your days are no longer your own, that time is marked not by numerals on the clock face but by bouts of wakefulness and sleep, of meals, snacks, playdates, shitty diapers, baths, and bedtime stories. Of course, anyone who spends their day as the lone supervisor of small children knows this instinctively, and should probably be awarded a fucking medal. This includes my wife.
So in my naiveté, I decide hastily that on this Saturday in early September, while my wife spends her “days off” from watching the kids working the telemetry floor at the hospital, that the children and I will do something that I enjoy and that perhaps they might get a kick out of as well.
Later that night beside the fire, while we haven’t technically been out of the car for more than five or six hours I realize this is not the purposeful experience I’d imagined. I’ve spent the majority of those hours in a state of frustration as I roll back the tape in my head. I lie in the dirt, push my sleeves down, and stew on all of this — my misguided preparation, my skewed expectations, how little sound is muffled by tent walls. I wonder, What the hell was I thinking?