I am not a kid person. No really, I’m not – this despite the fact I have two of my own and see a heck of a lot of them and have for seven years. You’d think I’d be a natural by now. But I don’t have clever ideas about what to do, I’m not particularly patient, and I too often fail at intuitive, relaxed childcare for the (more commonly used, in general) dogmatic and, when it comes down to it, control- and fear-based model: “We’re going to do this or else that.” For example.
Yet for the second day in a row I find myself taking other people’s children on a fun outing – kids who’d otherwise be left with babysitting or roaming around with “nothing to do” – kids bored, watching DVDs, playing video games, messing about where they’re not wanted or at least aren’t being empowered to follow their own interests. I rather think that’s the lot of many, if not most, kids in America. But I’m not particularly noble for taking extra kids with me: in including summer-bored children while we’re out and about I’m thinking about everyone, including my own kids who love nothing more than having companions.
Yesterday we ventured to Rochester to pick up the organic farm shares for our Hoquiam residents.* Today’s destination: a trailhead on Endreson alongside the Hoquiam River. Three extra kids today – the youngest on my Xtracycle with Nels and the older three, including my daughter, on their own bikes. The mom of the extra kids provides me with lunches, I’ve packed up hoodies and jackets (the weather continues to vascillate wildly between cold & gusty / hot & sticky), and I’ve got my trusty coffee cup (always!)
It’s lovely, really, being on a trail with children. There’s nothing to do but enjoy one another. Despite three different families being represented – and ages ranging from five to 11 – each kid is categorically open and friendly, interested in the nature around us, and helpful. This is a boon especially given the trail itself is no Magical World Of Wonders – an overgrown barely-visible trek with the same tired-ass vegetation I’ve seen in the various scrabbly little trails of my youth.
Still, we happen upon small wonders: a vibrant blue feather, a garter snake sunning itself, a few bushes brimming with ripe huckleberries (this is a hit; the other three children had never had them), an oddly pristine white cotton blanket crumpled alongside the trail, a dead vole spanning the narrow footway.
The children eat their own weight in berries, then help me load the hood of my jacket with more so I can bake something tomorrow. Nels is my most avid berry collector, staying on silently after the others have wandered off further down the trail (although his eat-to-save ratio is alarmingly high – he only hands me a precious berry about every minute). After about half a mile it terminates anticlimatically at the muddy river bank – a small flattened down patch of grass, old firepit, and empty bottles of cheap booze delineating a private and rather pleasant makeshift camp. (At the river crossing near the road Sophie was excited to find what she called a “chicken shot” – actually a hypodermic needle cast off from a junkie. Good times.)
After lunch by the river we head to my house to play with the kitten and the chickens, then ride the transit back to our starting place (another first for my three charges). I find out in biking that one woman + two kids on X incites smiles; add a couple tweens in the caravan and we get scowls. I ask the boys to stay on the right side of the roadway (they, like most children I know, have not been instructed in vehicular cycling) and I (politely) ask the boy M. to remove the earbuds and mp3 player so he can hear cars and, to a lesser extent, my voice. It’s funny because I am not a safety-fiend but I do find it rather alarming the lack of awareness many bike riders – young and old – have with regards to defensive cycling.
It’s a fun day, but exhausting (for me, anyway – home and my kids are once again tearing into art projects and pet projects and dress-up). Ralph comes home and I mix us up vodka gimlets and get to dinner, setting the table and toasting spices for berberÃ© sauce. Cooking settles my nerves no matter how jarred I am; it reinvigorates me no matter how tired.
* While there we ran into owner Sue who gave us a trunkful of lavendar in an almost eerily identical scenario to the little picture in the website’s header.