A note to stepmoms everywhere

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The Great Outdoors (Just like the movie, but no one dies and there’s no storm, or steak)

Youngest and dog, both in anticipation.

Youngest and dog, both in anticipation.

I love the outdoors and camping. I love fishing, hiking, sitting in the woods and staring at trees and controlled fires in their designated areas (I’m not a pyro, I just enjoy a nice little fire). I take my people on these excursions with me. They are meant to be calming little vacations where we all sit around and talk and roast marshmallows. We sleep in and have big breakfasts and relax, walking around the campground.

Now sometimes all of that nice stuff actually happens. But everything I do in life ends up completely weird and messed up in a way that wouldn’t even be possible for a normal person. This rule also applies to my vacations, so my people are also subjected to my weird occurrences.

We had a lovely little weekend planned at a state park we had not been to yet. We get to the campsite, and it is a patch of gravel perched at the edge of a steep hill. We were overlooking a small valley. The kids were not enthused. We tie up the dog and start setting up. We were there for a total of 30 minutes, yes, 30 minutes in, and the dog broke loose and went for a jog in the wilderness. Yay.

The littler people and I run down the hill to get the dog. We are whistling and calling her and clapping to get her to come back. She was gone for about 10 minutes and came pouncing back like it was the best play time she ever had. I dragged her about halfway back up the hill, then she dragged me the rest of the way (thankfully, I was dying!). We finish setting up, make dinner and after some fire time, we go to bed. I go to get ready for bed, and I came back without a flashlight and hear “Jessie, there’s raccoons in the screen tent!!” We were being raided by raccoons.

I chased out the bandits in the screen tent and began securing the food there, then I hear “there’s one in the cooler!”. Little dude figured out how to open the cooler. I chased him off with a stick, at one point I made contact, we were both surprised, and he ran off into the woods. I turn around and there are 2 more in the screen tent! It was an ambush!! I hollered to my husband for backup.

We finally got all the food in the car, and I was allowed into bed. They came back and found some dog treats. They didn’t have the decency to drag them off into the woods, they had to knock things over and rip open the bag as loudly as possible, terrifying the children (who are now absolutely traumatized and terrified of raccoons forever. I don’t get it). I had to get up one more time, chase him off and salvage the dog treats. Stupid raccoons.

The next day, we had rented a pontoon boat for the entire day. The dog was a little unsure of the whole thing, and freaked out a little. She stared at the water, but didn’t want to jump in. We went out and fished all day and then just cruised around the lake. I was sitting up front while we were putting along, when all of a sudden the dog jumped off the front of the boat. I was holding her leash, but knew her collar was a little big. She had gone under the boat, and if she slipped out of her collar, it was propeller time. I screamed at my husband to stop the boat and he threw it in reverse. The middle child ran up and opened the gate that I was struggling to open with my one free hand. The boat slowed, and I could see the dog paddling for her life! I grabbed her collar and yanked her back up on the boat, a little shaken up. So was I.  Stupid dog.

The next day, we went to the beach. It was packed. We found a part of the park where we could hang out and the dog didn’t have a massive anxiety attack (high maintenance, seriously). We got some sun and got in the water. I went to the bathroom and apparently missed a man getting completely naked for the outdoor shower area where you would normally just rinse off in your bathing suit. Totally naked in front of God and everybody. I’m still not sure why anyone would think it was ok to do that. We stopped off on the way home and tried to fish a little. We caught a few tiny guys, but that was it. The dog was just beside herself at this point and tried to chase the bobber on every cast and wanted to run around and drive us all crazy. I slipped and called her a Dick Nixon, minus the Nixon, in front of the people. They all stopped and looked at me wide eyed.  I said sorry about 20 times, then they all giggled for a bit.

We went back to the campsite, had dinner and went to bed a little early. The next morning, we woke up and had everything all packed up and left the site in 2 and a half hours. A personal best. But aside from bandit raccoon ambushes, drowning runaway dogs and full frontal beach time, it was a good trip.

But I swear sometimes I feel like it’s so crazy, you just can’t make this up. I need a vacation from my vacation.

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More Dangerous Things to do With Dad

Guess which one is my dad?

Growing up, I had young parents. They were growing up with us, in a way. My dad was a big kid, and wanted to make everything a game. Sometimes he took things seriously (the “moderately insane” dad kind of serious, I think all of our dads have freaked out at some point) but for the most part, he wanted to have fun. He wanted to have fun with us, specifically.

My parents were divorced and we were with dad on the weekends. We went on lots of adventures and did lots of interesting (crazy) things. Many of which there is NO WAY I would do with my stepkids. It seemed perfectly sane at the time, but I have my woman pants on now, and those things look crazy pants to me. Growing up really screws with your perception of things, doesn’t it?

We went on lots of car rides. Money was tight just about my entire childhood. I just assumed that no one had any, and this was the kind of stuff they did. We would get bored and drive down country roads or dirt roads and listen to the radio. Might sound lame, but I’ve always loved a good car ride.

Sometimes we would just try to find new things to do, sometimes it was the scenic route home. It depended on the scenario. We planned our weekends on a whim most of the time.

One night we were on a ride home from somewhere, probably our cousins’ house. It was late and we were back in town, close to his apartment. It seems like we were driving past our old apartments. They were the place I first grew up in, and my first “home” that I remember. That was where my parents were married the longest, so it held a lot of memories for us, and we would drive past from time to time.

It was near an old business park, and most of the buildings had been abandoned and some were partially demolished. It was creepy there, and I loved creeping myself out, so I asked if we could stop there. Dad gave his “Sure, why not”. Which is something I say to this day.

We drove over to a place that had been a cookie factory at one point, and we drove around the building to check it out. It looked abandoned. There was not much there. Then, dad had a moment that will go down in infamy.

“Hey, look at those old train tracks”

We stopped, looked. I thought he was just pointing out something antique and wondered what they were for and why they were there. They were pretty much just 2 rails standing on the ground. There was only a little bit of an incline (more like a wedge) so you could get over them, not like a regular crossing at all.

“I bet I could jump them!”

I was in awe “In the truck!?!” I gasped.

“Yeah, how fast should I go?”

“Gun it! Go fast!” I was so excited. I totally thought this would be like a Dukes of Hazzard moment. I was amped. My brother seemed a little nervous, and rightly so. He was older and smarter than me, and he knew a lot about cars. I think he had some insight into this experiment.

He gunned it and the little 4 cylinder truck rattled off towards the track like a wild pony. We gained speed and I was so excited. We had never done anything this cool! This was going to be awesome!

We hit the incline at what immediately seemed too fast. The truck got air. All 4 tires totally off the ground at the same time. I believe I heard my father say “uh-oh”. Indeed.

We. Hit. The. Ground. The springs under our bench seat compressed and all 3 of our butts hit the floor of the truck. We all groaned at the same time from being spinally compressed. The wind knocked out of us.

Dad could only groan “that was a bad idea” in pain.

We took a minute to try and recover, dad looked over the truck briefly, then we took the thankfully short ride home.

I don’t remember what became of that truck, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t keep it long after “the incident”. I think we broke that pony’s leg that night.


Dangerous Things to do With Dad

It was the coldest winter prior to the enjoyable polar vortex we were all just trapped in for the past few months. It was horrible out for the whole winter. My father had enjoyed himself immensely. He was from Upper Michigan, and apparently, “stupid cold” was right up his alley. He would regularly run outside and throw hot cups of water in the air so we could eagerly peer out the window at the steam.

We planned ambitious sledding trips with thermoses full of hot chocolate, 3 pairs of gloves, 4 pairs of socks, 3 pants under your snowpants…I felt like Randy from A Christmas Story. “I can’t put my arms down!” We would lay out all of the clothes we were about to put on and get dad’s approval, then load up and roll out to the sledding hill. It was so cold your nose hairs froze together when you took a breath in, so we would stop every 2 or 3 times down and got a cup of hot chocolate. No one else was out. It was great.

After weeks of horrible cold and battering winds, all of the ice from Lake Michigan had been pushed up against the shore into icebergs. They were these beautiful white mountains just off the shore. They were jagged and snow covered, piled high. It was incredible. We would just go down to look at them, the way they gently contrasted against the cold water and slate gray sky behind them. They were amazing, and I was convinced that they were the only icebergs I would ever see. I was still in awe.

I had grown up close to the lake, and it’s like it’s always held my bearings. I’ve loved it like a family member. I’ve never lived in the same place for too long, but that lake has always been there. Even at a young age, like during that winter, the lake was a gem in my heart. To see it decorated like this made it like a diamond.

We sat in my dad’s truck one overcast day, silently staring at the lovely ghosts in the water. My dad looked at me and just casually said “Let’s go check ‘em out.” I didn’t question it. We got out and walked over to where it seemed like the shore should be. Then I remembered that where we were standing was close to a sea wall, and that we might be right on top of it.

“We might be close to the edge” I warned.

He looked out squinting, and not looking at me said “It’s been cold. It’s okay. Let’s go out a little ways.”

I was slightly apprehensive, “You sure it’s okay?”

He shrugged, like he always does, and said “Yeah, why not?”

He took a few steps out and then turned to me and said “let me go first. Put your feet in my footsteps.” We ventured out, one step at a time. I took large strides to match his steps. I was very careful to put my feet in his prints as closely as possible. I was only looking down, not looking around for fear I may miss my aim and step “outside the lines”.

Suddenly he stopped and turned, “Hey, if I go under, don’t try to help me. Go get someone.”

Red flag! Alarms were going off in my head. What! I nervously shot out “are you sure this is okay? Maybe we should turn back…”

“No, no, we’re fine,” he assured, “I just wanted to let you know that.”

It changed the tone of the expedition. But he kept going, so no matter if I was terrified and did want to go back, I wasn’t going to now. What if he went under? My thoughts were that I had to watch out for him, not that I might fall through, although that was also a concern, but I primarily had to stay so that I could stay close to him. I didn’t think he would come back with me.

We ventured on, despite my nervousness. One step at a time, I, too nervous to speak. I really hoped that whatever this ended up turning into was worth it. Time seem to slow and stretch, kept only by the pace of our boots crunching through the deep snow to the ice.

The ice wasn’t a sheet. Rather it was thousands of fragmented pieces piled on top of each other and frozen together. They crunched like broken glass when stepped on, and it only served to heighten the nerves.

We reached the incline of the particular iceberg we wanted to reach and climbed up. It was probably about a 12 foot climb, but we were probably already on about 6 feet of ice. We reached the little summit, he got there first and gave a “woah!”

I couldn’t get there fast enough, “what?!” “Check this out” he gasped in amazement.

I peered over the snowy little peak and the lake was smooth as glass. Not a breeze or a whisper to stir it. Absolutely silent. It was grey out, as it was overcast, but it was like a veil hung over the lake. The sky was perfectly reflected in the glass of the lake, all a soft misty velvet. It looked like a painting. Off to the side, a pair of geese were in the water, which I found completely odd. My father’s answer was “where are they going to go?”

I suppose that was a valid point. We lie belly down on the peak of snow covered broken glass, gazing into a secret world from our special vantage point.

Then I thought “I don’t know anyone else who has climbed an iceberg”

Dad gave my arm a little smack and said “Pretty cool, huh? Aren’t you glad we did this? You can tell your kids when you grow up.”

We shuffled back down, and the trip back to the truck didn’t seem so treacherous. I suppose I knew each fresh step didn’t spell doom. That’s always helpful.

He was right. I learned a lot from that little episode. I learned that with risk comes unimaginable gains, and you will never know what you missed if you are too scared to step out.

I have stepkids now, and I have told them about this. However, I only tell them “we were going out on ice and he told me not to help him if he went under”. Their horrified responses let me know they won’t try the same crazy garbage.

I can teach them life lessons without actually risking their lives.