Before we left New Zealand, a friend of my Mother’s said, ‘You’re brave taking off to America with two small children.’ I attempted to smile, then burst into tears. I didn’t feel brave.
For the first time in my life, I made a travel decision based on what was best for somebody else – my family. I knew it was going to satisfy a life-long dream in the Dimple and the children would benefit greatly from a new adventure. I also knew it would be the trickiest for me.
It’s hard to feel like a modern woman: a determined, talented feminist, when you give up work, friends, your favourite house, city, view and family to become a mother in the woods.
Shit, it was hard. We arrived 14 days before summer camp started last year. 14 days before we lost the Dimple to hundreds of other children, who also benefit greatly from an adventure in the woods – and the closest they get to anything verdant is what Dad smokes.One night I was reading Sil Silverstream’s, The Giving Tree, to Bob and the ‘Dactyl when I started to cry. I felt like that tree, giving away my trunk, branches and leaves until I was just a sad old stump, only good for sitting on. The Dimple walked in on me silently leaking and I tried to explain it later – I felt like I no longer had a life of my own. Everything was borrowed: the house, the furniture, the artwork, and the old clothes we pottered around in. Even the flowers in the garden weren’t mine, as the Camp Mother before me planted them.
I had forgotten it takes six months to adjust to a new place, and another six to fall in love with it.
All I could talk about before we left was whether I would get on with the Other Camp Mother. Oh boy, there was a lot riding on it. Two families, of four, in the middle of nowhere, living 300 metres apart. For six months of the year they would be our social circle.
The Dads had already worked together here, in the mid 90’s. That’s when they came up with the grand scheme to one day Run The Bloody Place. Now they are.
The children couldn’t be more evenly matched in age, and spirit. It took them about 23 minutes to become friends and together they are an amazing gang, encouraging each other to jump in deeper, prod higher, PICK IT UP AND SEE IF IT’S BREATHING, strip off the fastest and make a huge mess while Mum is on the loo.
That just left me and Mama K, as my children call her. Without Mama K, I would still be feeling stumpy. Oh, we had our ironing out to do, initially. The camp staff get taught every summer that within a new group there’s always a process of Form(ing relationships), Storm(ing as conflict arises), then Norm(alize as people settle into their roles).
Mama K and I formed easily. We had superbly matched senses of humour and parenting styles. Our storming lasted three weeks –not thunder and lightning just well placed hail– and now we have normed into a wonderful friendship. Not only do we get on, I genuinely adore her. I may be miles from civilization but I can’t hide from Mama K. She sees me sad, angry at my children, upset with The Dimple, and in my pyjamas some mornings. She also sees obsessions I try to hide from others, like sweeping the floor too much, a daily need to write and exercise, and a glass of wine around five. She’s seen all my faults, and possibly my ugliest trait: I struggle to share stuff, which is ridiculous, considering we don’t own anything here and one day we will leave with the same four suitcases we arrived with.
Mama K is the opposite. She doesn’t have a selfish cell in her body. When new things come into her house, she shares them immediately with us: toys, books, clothes, appliances, even cookies.
Ever so slowly, it’s rubbing off on me and I’m learning the more I share, the better I feel. Not to mention lighter. Recently I lent her my favourite boots, which was a huge step. Literally.
Where Mama K excelled was making me realize that to be happy in the woods, I had to get Out Of The Woods. Mother Nature is inspiring, calming and powerful, but I shrivel without interesting company. Mama K has unselfishly shared her friends, in local Mendocino and San Francisco to the extent that I have officially stolen nearly all of them as my own, and she doesn’t snarl –she even encourages it!
Heading into our second summer –where we lose the Dimple for another ten weeks– it feels great to have a posse of fantastic women around. My roots have grown down, my trunk and branches are reaching out and I no longer leak when I get to the stumpy bit in The Giving Tree.
My only concern, what with communal living, borrowed possessions, raising chickens (and pigs), and The Dimple cutting my hair, is that we might be turning into freakin’ hippies!