When I was growing up, a childhood friend used the term "camping out at the ranch" to describe her rambling waterfront family home and boisterous siblings. For an only child, from an organized home, the constant parade of siblings, friends and extended family, house projects, boat projects, horses, dogs, cats and overall controlled mayhem was like Christmas on a daily basis. My friend's loving, matriarch of a mom would dole out chores, hugs, reprimands and snacks to relatives and visitors alike.
The true magic of the orchestrated chaos was at its finest during crises and celebration. The AC is out on the hottest night in August--sleep on the screened porch; the well pump is down--jump in the pool or river; the police brought you home--scrape and repaint the dock, then we'll discuss it; you're ready to launch your boat--everyone and then some will be at the launch; you found an injured bunny, bird, squirrel--nurse it back to health in the barn; you need some money--pick a project (paint the barn, fix fences, re-screen the porch), and get paid by the hour.
As much as I loved the chaos, it was a welcome relief to escape to my orderly family life, and I didn't realize the lasting effects of my friend and her family until this past weekend.
We ran out of propane in the middle of cooking Sunday morning breakfast. Our first inclination was to freak out--frantically digging out the 1000 gallon tank, calling all gas companies in the valley and begging for rush delivery. John located the tank under a snow drift, but I was unsuccessful in my pleas for service. So we sat back, looked at each other and laughed. The girls thought we had gone around the bend.
We have solar hot water, a fire place and an electric oven--so we were actually prepared. By the time our tank was refilled on Wednesday (an envelope of cash taped to the front door provides amazing incentive), we were in a "camping out at the ranch" routine of keeping the fire stoked, roasting marshmallows, wearing slippers and an extra sweater, taking showers when the sun was shining for the hottest water and enjoying baked dinners. And it was fun.
Once the house was fully operational, I transferred laundry to the now functioning propane dryer, and, while petting one of four household rescue animals, I sat back and took a mental snapshot of our family life.
Windowsills are filled with botany projects, one child's work in progress Florida diorama rests next to my other daughter's gnome project--all on my desk amongst test gear, papers and computer manuals, a plate of cookies is on the counter, the dogs broke open a bag of quickcrete for the almost finished fire pit, there's a puzzle on the coffee table, a carboard box fort resides in the hallway, friends come for the night and stay a month or two, tractor implements in various states of repair fill the garage, stacks of books and magazines litter the den, and, at the ages of 9 and 11, the girls, out of necessity, can do their laundry, shovel snow and fix breakfast.
Last week, I was truly questioning my abilities to raise our children in an orderly fashion. Now I realize I can't, and the girls are better for it. We have love, respect, quickcrete dog prints in the kitchen and a parade of fresh faces at the dining room table. Merry Christmas!
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