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I have made so many mistakes as a parent it actually makes me nauseous to think about it. My girls grow and change at lightning speed, so just when I think I’m on my game, the rules change and I blunder and yell my way into another mistake.
But, I can honestly say I have done a few things right and one of those things is going back to the same vacation spot year after year.
There is something magical about returning to the same place throughout the years, particularly when you are growing up. The place itself becomes charmed and full of meaning; every room, every stonewall, every crooked gate. It’s as if time is reversed and you walk forward into a memory, a wonderful memory.
My girls and I have been going to Eaton’s Ranch in Wolf Wyoming since they were 5 and 6 – which isn’t that long to me but it’s a lifetime for them.
In years past we have sometimes gone with friends, who have fallen in love with the ranch themselves. But all our pals seem to be busy and Bill is editing a movie he just directed. So this summer it’s just the three of us, and when I asked my girls if they wanted to skip Eaton’s, they looked at me as if I had just suggested eating their pet baby rabbit. So we are going.
At first, there is a kind of restless panic, about my kids being bored, about my not working, about having not enough TO DO! There is no real Internet service at the Ranch. Well, that’s not true you can sometimes get a signal up by the shoeing shed.
Your cell phone feels like a phantom limb that itches and calls to you but is ultimately useless. It takes a couple of days to change your internal rhythm, but after day 3 you sink down into the slower pace, your belly relaxes, and you breathe deeply.
As we all know, unplugging changes your worldview. My daughter describes it as, “Things get small, and I don’t worry about the outside world here. We are just doing whatever we are doing.” Our day isn’t bookended by what we are finishing and what we haven’t done yet.
But it is the 7000 acres you can explore on horseback that calls to you from the moment you arrive. You can hop on your horse in the morning and ride back into the corral at the end of the day.
We usually take a ride to the duck pond with lunches in our saddlebags. There, we drop the horse’s reins; loosen their girths, and skinny dip in the pond all afternoon eating PBJ’s and hard-boiled eggs.
You can climb up the big cottonwood tree, grab the terrifying rope swing, (give a mighty jump so you don’t impale yourself on some dead tree branches) and plunge into the water.
Two years ago, the steps were broken so we climbed up a horse – stood on his butt and jumped from there.
Then the following year Bill packed some tools on his horse and rebuilt the steps, while the girls fished.
In the evenings we play cards on the porch of our cabin, which was built over 100 years ago, until it’s time to go to bed and start all over again the next morning.
Friday nights there is a dance in Howard Hall. The older cowboys gallantly danced with my girls when they were younger and the handsome wranglers dance with my girls now that they are old enough to blush.
I feel like this is something I have given my girls that is an unadulterated good. It’s non-negotiable. I felt the same way breastfeeding them. I couldn’t mess up breast milk. It was pure goodness. I feel the same way about the two weeks at the ranch.
Listen, we still have fights, and I still yell obscenities and blow it whether it is in our idyllic 100-year-old cabin (where a bat lives in the roof) or on horseback. So if it sounds perfect it’s not. It’s just about as good as REAL IMPERFECT life gets.
What about you? Did you grow up returning to the same vacation spot year after year? Did it mean a lot to you? How about your children now? Any secret vacation spots you want to share?
I wish you a long and happy July,