Texas weather has been a bit schizophrenic lately. One day we have an actual dusting of snow on the driveway that doesn’t immediately melt upon ground impact and Austin closes the schools for an entire day. There’s a rush on grocery stores and folks bite their lips wondering if they have enough heat to make it through until the weekend. But by Saturday everyone’s stripping off their hoodies because it’s 75 degrees up in here, ya’ll. Cedar pollen flies through the air like a wildfire haze and everyone I know has a Rudolph nose and sounds like Lauren Bacall with a smoker’s cough. “It’s just allergies,” they mutter as they set their used snot rag on your coffee table. Yeah, okay. Pick that up.
So when the weather warms up for a short reprieve I try to get the kids outside to do fun things together. Like the other day when we went hiking. I bundled the kids up into their best REI gear and decided we’d have a hot chocolate hike, which sounded exciting at the time, so I packed a large bag of pretzels and cheese and salami and fruit and a thermos full of thick hot chocolate with marshmallows.
Going anywhere with a three-year-old can present some significant challenges. Like “I’m tired” or “carry me” or the favorite “I’m scared of the bears.” Bears? Where are bears? There are no freaking bears. Keep walking, kiddo. Then my seven-year-old pipes up with “look the clouds/they are so magnificent in the sky” and skips along collecting items for her nature collection in total bliss until at some point she feels something strangely wet and drippy on her neck, to which I respond “it’s sweat: you’ll totally survive.”
Finally about half a mile in, the children are panicked that they won’t ever again see modern civilization and I think it might be time for a hot chocolate pick-me-up, so I veer off the trail like ten measly feet and sit down upon the ground spreading out the trail-food bounty. My daughter just stands in the same spot and points to the sign, which reads “Stay on Trail” and looks at me as if I’d decided to rob Target. “But mom,” she cries in horror. She points again to said sign as if I were a terrorist.
I convince my daughter we won’t get shot and confirm to my son the bears are hibernating and yell at them both to sit down and gather for snacks. See, guys? Isn’t the landscape beautiful? Do you see that cloud that looks like an alligator? A line of horses trot by which brings a look of sheer panic on my daughter’s face like they might be the regal trail-enforcement brigade and we have gone rogue. I’ve had just about enough. This is supposed to be a fun family outing so EVERYONE ACT LIKE THIS IS AWESOME. But my daughter is scowling and my son is so excited about the chocolate that he grabs a cup and begins to guzzle it like it’s Gatorade. It’s been in a thermos, which means it will stay at exactly 900 degrees until I retire, unlike my crappy travel mugs that can’t keep coffee warm from the house to the car.
Commence the screaming. I leap up thinking there might be a snake or a venomous spider but realize he’s poured hot chocolate down his pant leg and man that must hurt. But he’ll be okay because he’s a tough little dude and all I can see is a slight reddish area on his calf. So I think he’s just being dramatic as he hobbles alongside of me back to the car. My daughter is now breathing a huge sigh of relief that we’re back on trail and in the legal clear and I hear lots of statements like “will we ever drink water again” and “please hold my sweatshirt because it’s so hot I’m melting.” We’re a very dramatic lot.
Back at the car I remove my son’s socks. To my horror I realize he has a third degree burn on his foot that’s all blistered up, which has rubbed against his shoes for half a mile. This makes me want to cry and curse the fact that I didn’t immediately call for a medical helicopter to transport him to our vehicle and I feel so terrible I just sit there holding compresses of water soaked towels around his injury and shushing him. I hate you, stupid thermos.
When we get home, I have a wretched sneezing attack and I have to breathe into a wet rag just to get control of the cedar pollen. I lay next to my son as he naps holding ice packs on his burn and think to myself how much more fun the day would have been if we just hauled our little selves to the movie theatre and ate popcorn with wild abandon.
And yet despite the dangers, hot chocolate risks, red nose of doom, and peril of going off-trail, I’m determined to get them outside as much as possible. Nature is good for their skin and their soul and their curiosity and their placement on this earth, so when the weather lifts we’re trekking it to Enchanted Rock, whereby we shall all brave a large barren hill and I shall bring cold water and fruit roll-ups and allergy medicine for all. And we will like it. Because there will always be movies to see, but they don’t present any real memories to build a life on. But touching the sky with your hands, feeling the dust under your feet, and getting scalding burns from Williams-Sonoma peppermint hot chocolate – well, isn’t that what makes life worth living, after all?