Dalai Mama Dishes

by Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

Dalai Mama Dishes

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

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The Road at Nickerson Campground

Posted August 19, 2008
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Catherine and Birdy

Ever wonder what Catherine sounds like? Listen to her read this blog entry.

We are skipping down the steep hill from the bathroom, you and I, in the piney twilight of the campground. Since your brother Ben was a baby, I have probably made this exact trip to and from this exact bathroom, oh, 300 or so times. It is one of the few aspects of camping in which the beauty of the moment is not immediately apparent - what with holding my breath against the reeking dampness while greenhead flies buzz against the fluorescent light fixture and the daddy longlegs congregate in leggy tangles like Halloween props and I swat mosquitoes away from your hair while your pants pool around your ankles onto the wet cement floor and you grunt and groan and wind yards of toilet paper around your waiting fist and then decide, nope, not this time, maybe you'll try again later. (Note to self: the peanut-butter-and-jelly hobo-pie diet is not the key to happy bowels.)

Oh, but cheer bubbles out of you, even here. Water sprays sideways out of the faucet, drenching your sleeves and shirtfront, and you peer into the sink, and wonder aloud about the blue ring. While I explain about the copper oxidizing in the drain, you stand on tiptoe, craning to see yourself in the mirror, then say, "I don't really understand that, about the drain," and skip back outside through the beetle encrusted screen door.

We pass the campsite where some kind of raucous family reunion is taking place: there are dozens of people, a cluster of enormous tents, multiple Coleman stoves sizzling out endless rounds of hotdogs and hamburgers, pancakes and bacon. "Is my latte ready yet?" I call out every time we pass, and they laugh. A large group of them is always playing beanbag toss, kids and grown-ups lined up in hooting, rioutous teams. They are never not playing. "I picture one of them getting hurt," Ben said earlier. "And the rest of them all playing beanbag toss at the hospital." There is also much loud playing of much loud rock music. "It must be fun to party all night long," you sigh, like maybe you're Eddie Van Halen.

But now it's you and me alone on the road, in the deepening dark, with the trees exhaling their clean smell all around us. This road! At two, Ben learned about looking both ways on this road, at three he crossed it proudly to fill his water bottle from the spigot, at six he and Ava walked alone up to the stone shelter to watch the sunset, and, yesterday, he had his very first head-over-heels bicycle wipe-out right here, almost where you're standing: he got up, brushed off his bruised ribs, his scraped knees, and hopped back on, pedaled away while I stood motionless with my heart in stomach. And you, my little one, you with the s'more residue smudged across your forehead and into your bangs, you with the constellation of bug bites sprayed across your cheeks - you ran up this road holding my hand, holding it in, when you were first diaperless. And before then, I walked this road, humming, with you in the sling, you with the big eyes, too excited about the waves and the hermit crabs and the Popsicle and the fire to let your poor tired self nap. I walked this road the summer you were sick, the summer I said to Daddy, "Could she be this hot just from the sun?" And no, you couldn't be, poor baby. I lay with you in the tent, willing you to cool down while we listened to the big kids splash in the pond below, and you smiled and smiled at me, kicking your fat, feverish, happy little legs.

Now the frogs have started up, honking to each other in the dark like an orchestra of kazoos, and you've stopped walking to squint at something. "What is that," you ask, "windows?" I look where you're pointing, and what it is is the last of the light over the pond, glowing through the trees, illuminating the spaces between them into flickering squares of blue. And what it's like is not anything, it's just this, the dark and the light and your small hand in mine, your sun-streaked braids, your trust. "Keep holding my hand," you say. "I'm closing my eyes." And I will, my Birdy love. I do.

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The Road at Nickerson Campground

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About Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman is the author of the memoir, Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family, available online and in bookstores nationwide.

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