Monday, August 07, 2006

Fryslan Boppe

It was a desperate juggling act. I was trying to keep the tiny Hibachi grill dry, trying to keep the grilling sandwiches from burning, trying to keep the kids away from the hot grill, trying to strategically redirect the streams of water plummeting from the canopy of our tent, trying to move our camping supplies toward the drier parts of the tent, trying to keep the kids out of the mud, and trying to maintain my sanity in the midst of the deluge that threatened to derail our family camping adventure practically before it had even gotten started...

I was trying to keep it all together -- madly juggling like a court jester whose king was inclined toward beheading those subjects who displeased him -- but I was not really succeeding in any of these desperate attempts, and dropping balls like crazy in the process.

My sanity was actually the second ball to drop. Like the dike that holds back the powerful North Sea from flooding Fryslan, my powers of concentration and self-control were stressed by this storm of unparalleled ferocity. And when the overloaded canopy of our tent bent and unloaded its weary shoulders onto my bent and weary shoulders in a moment of distraction, the dike was breached. I bellowed like a caveman and reeled backwards, toward the inside of the tent -- toward and, yes, into the grill that was cooking our supper. Like a Charlie Chaplin comedy sketch, I stepped on a corner of the grill, upsetting the grilling sandwiches and spilling red-hot embers onto the wet grass, releasing a sizzle of fury and frustration that paralleled the downward spiral of my spirits. A stream of curses started rising in my chest, churning and billowing up my trachea and into the back of my throat. I tipped my head back to call down angry curses on this cold wet world from the angry gray heavens above.

And then I noticed them: my children.

Elliot's half-curious-half-horrified countenance served as a mirror reflecting and interpreting my martyred anguish. In marked contrast, Olivia clapped her hands and shimmied in a little dance that indicated her (mistaken) comprehension of the funny show which Daddy was so obviously acting out for her entertainment. Thus in that moment, I realized that I had failed my family with the grim outlook and gruff demeanor that I had adopted for the vacation. My memory involuntarily reviewed the thousands of times that Marci and I had talked with our children about choosing a "happy heart" instead of a "grumpy heart." Our response to life circumstances is a personal choice, and no one or no thing can make you feel happy or sad. And as my mind recollected these repetitive parental lessons, a new cold wave of realization washed down my back: I needed a "time out" on my bed. I needed to check my attitude and make a choice. Would I choose a "happy heart" or a "grumpy heart" for this camping trip?

I opted for the happy heart.

Of course, the change in my attitude was not instantaneous. The much-anticipated "s'mores" (a traditional American chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker sandwich) did not turn out very well because the grill had cooled considerably through the accident. The rain persisted and pounded our tent throughout the night, keeping the children awake until after 10:00 at night and allowing us parents only fitful sleep until the morning. But a fundamental change had started to take root that could not be derailed by thunder, lightning, or rain.

The rest of the time in Fryslan went remarkably well. Marci's logistical prowess and cool-headedness throughout the weekend should one day be acknowledged by the Vatican as a sign of her sainthood. The kids reveled in the joys of sleeping bags and tents and flashlights. And with my choice for a happy heart -- well, we were basically one big happy family. When the first night ended and the second day of our camping adventure dawned, the precipitation had tapered off and a few brave rays of sunshine even dared to warm our campsite. The second day was a little bit windy, and we caught a couple of rain showers when we tried to venture out -- but things went much better overall. We enjoyed walking through the forests and meadows of the countryside. We enjoyed driving through the vast flatlands, stopping at drawbridges for a parade of sailing masts to pass in front of us. We enjoyed traditional Frisian pastries from a local bakery. And in the evening, we enjoyed ooey-gooey s'mores and marshmallows roasted over a dry bed of coals.

Against all odds, the mini-vacation ended up being a great success. Unbelievably, we suffered less from problems with mosquitos or hay fever than what we've recently been experiencing in the city. And although we were certainly glad to get back to our own beds and the comforts of civilization, a part of us was also sad to say good-bye to Fryslan.


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