Late afternoon memories on the frozen pond.

Late afternoon memories on the frozen pond.

The sun is inching low towards the distant pine-specked ridge line and the boys are frolicking across the snowy ice, their shadows drifting almost as far as their laughter. They are taking turns on a plastic sled, towing one another and pretending to slip, sliding in long smooth streaks across the bumpy frozen pond. They stumble into each other and jostle tummy to tummy until one falls over, like slippery footed sumo wrestlers. In this moment they are best friends, cackling together through the thin winter air, extending hands to help each other up, arms easily draping over shoulders and mittens patting backs. The Captain and I clutch frosty cans in our own mittened fists, smiling easily as the sun soaks into our cheeks. This is why we did it. This is why we’re here. Moments like this are the reward for hard work, risk and discomfort. Moments like this are what we’ve been waiting for.

We have paid a price for this moment, and it was worth every bit. What price are you willing to pay?

It Will Be Dark

The cabin

The cabin.

It wasn’t like this at first. We arrived on Friday late in the afternoon, as a gentle snow was just settling in a bit heavier than forecast. The roads were slick and narrow, the woods dense and dark. We found our cabin tucked deep in the pines at the distant end of a winding road that didn’t seem like it led anywhere until we spotted the tiny sign hung crookedly on a tree. The boys, having been strapped into carseats for three hours, spilled out onto the fresh snow, sliding clumsily as they scooted their toy trucks around on their knees. The Captain set to work immediately, opening the cabin and working on a fire in the wood stove straight away. I carried load after load from the minivan to the cabin. We were racing against the sun.

The "kitchen"

The “kitchen”

But inside the cabin it was already dark. The cabin. It wasn’t quite what we had expected. It was tiny, smaller than our kitchen, smaller than the cabin in the pictures. Two sets of bunkbeds were kitty-cornered taking up most of the floor space. Across from them was an unfinished wooden slab, presumably a counter space of sorts, and then a small wobbly table with two even wobblier chairs. There was a thin chain hanging from the ceiling which we hung our lantern from, but it only cast a harsh light across the top of the cabin ceiling and somehow made it even harder to see in the shadowed spaces below. I took deep breaths. I told myself, this will be worth it.

It Will Be Dirty

Then there was the dirt. I’d come prepared with a broom and dust pan, paper towels, and cleaning spray. But this was a different kind of dirt. It was ground into the unfinished wood floor so deeply that there could have just as easily been no floor at all. It was a deep, deep dirt ground into everything. As snow was inevitably tracked across the floor, despite the admonitions to TAKE OFF YOUR BOOTS, it turned to mud and smeared easily and everywhere. It was filthy and beyond cleanable. I took deep breaths. I told myself, this will be worth it.

The "bedrooms"

The “bedrooms”

After the Captain got the fire going and the camping stove set up, he brought the boys for a wander in the waining daylight so I could set up beds and start cooking dinner. There was no floor space for Little Bear’s pack ’n play. At two and a half, he’s almost ready for a big bed, but with the whole family sharing 100 square feet, this was definitely not the night to try it so I flipped a mattress on its side and crammed the crib onto a lower bunk, leaving about eight inches of clearance for the little guy to acrobatically contort himself into a front dive/flip each time he wanted in or out.

I was thankful I’d cooked the chili at home before we left, and only needed to heat it on the stove. Soon the boys tumbled into the cabin all snow and rosy cheeks, tired and hungry. Junior furrowed his brow as he looked up. “You should have chosen another cabin that wasn’t all haunted spiderwebs, Mama.” I took deep breaths. I told myself, this will be worth it.

Just When You Start to Relax, Something Will Go Wrong

After dinner, we tucked a pair of dirty exhausted boys into their sleeping bags and dimmed the lantern. The Captain and I sat at the table, whispering and passing a bottle of something strong by the flickering light of the wood stove. The cabin was finally warm and as our drinks seeped in, so were we. I thought this might be the moment when it was worth it. It thought we were in the clear. And then we saw a mouse scurry over to a chocolate bar and start digging in. Back to work, we packed everything into rubbermaid bins and tupperware. We fell asleep late, with chills on our shoulders as we imagined the mouse running across the foot of our sleeping bags as we slept. I tossed and turned for an hour and fell into a restless sleep, broken by a winter’s wind that snuck between the cabin’s logs and crept into my sleeping bag.

Don’t Lose Hope; A New Day Will Dawn. 

The advantage to a dark cabin is that dawn holds off just a little longer. We all slept past six, almost until seven, with the exception of a few wakings to feed the stove during the night. The boys woke excited and we all clamored out of bed, us for hot coffee and them for mugs of warm milk. I made sausage and potatoes and eggs on the wood stove. We filled our stomachs and then geared up.

DSC_0368 DSC_0394  DSC_0484DSC_0384Outside the new snow left everything fresh. We walked up the road to scout sledding hills, then browsed the trail map and headed through the woods to the frozen pond. Junior, having had a cold during the week, was not his usual self but he perked up after a snack by the pond and the promise of a chance to walk on the ice. Later, there was sledding and a chance to use his new “monster” snow shoes. (Totally nonfunctional as snow shoes, by the way. But fun for him nonetheless.)

After a morning outside, the boys devoured some grilled cheese sandwiches and then fell into a deep, long nap. While they napped, we lit a fire in the fire pit outside and swapped big talk about the adventures we’d have here if the boys were a little older.

DSC_0413 DSC_0548 DSC_0430When giggles and squeals began to drift out from the cabin, we got the boys dressed again and headed back for a walk around the frozen pond. This time we found beaver dens and watched the sun descend.

DSC_0543  DSC_0643Later we stoked the fire and the boys perched on the edge of the cooler, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. We poked at the hot coals and watched the stars come out. Pudgy sun-kissed cheeks, smeared with grease and sugar, shimmered in the firelight. It was still early but the fresh air made their eyelids heavy. They leaned gently on one another.

Now we knew why we’d come here in the first place.

The Price You Paid Will Be Worth It

We aren’t the sort of people who routinely drop big money on vacations or experiences. In fact, we tend to do things on a pretty tight budget. Our cabin rental was a negligible expense, probably only marginally more than the gas we’d spent getting there.

The real price we pay for experiences like this with our kids is the hardship. It is not always comfortable. It is not easy. If comfort and ease are your goal, it’s definitely better to stay home.

Adventures are risky. They are hard. They are work.

The packing alone was hours of planning and preparation. There were hours more spent in the car. It was dark. It was dirty. For two nights, we shared our space with a mouse.

But then there was this. And years later when we laugh about the dark, and the dirt and the mouse, it will be this that we remember most.

Childhood is short. Let’s pay the price to fill it with moments like this.

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Roasting hot dogs as the sun goes down.