The warm, amber glow of the autumn sun is seeping in past the thin curtains, making the dark room glow like a dying fire. My oldest is quietly curled up at my feet, the twin bed we’re occupying clownishly small. My youngest is belly-side-down in her own tiny twin bed, sleeping so hard that each breath might as well be a snore. There’s the murmur of movement below us; dinner is being prepared. We’ve hiked, or rather walked, our kids into a solid nap time today. My heart swells at the bravery of E.V. as she faced her fears and walked across that rickety old bridge, suspended high above the river this morning. My heart laughs a little bit at the thought that her mom, too, had to conquer that fear. But where I have sunk into my fears with age, E.V. still has the ability to thwart them with childish abandon, and she does with every chance she gets — today with the rickety bridge and with a fearless, self-proposed leap across a small creek on the other side of that bridge. Her sister, thankfully, isn’t so adventurous, but she is intrigued by dirt and rocks and bugs and the water. So Cricket digs around a bit while Emma Vance leaps, and I’m happy to only have one child to worry about at a time.
Back at the cabin there’s this constant, comforting white noise of deep voices in deep conversation, of little feet rumbling across the porch, of ten children’s voices all talking at once to no one and to everyone — and the overtone of the conversation is a chorus of “Baba Black Sheep” being sung on repeat. (That’s my child, by the way.) Sand is everywhere — on hands, in shoes, in pockets — and there are a dozen Shopkins buried alive somewhere in a horseshoe pit. I laugh at the thought of whoever rents this cabin next time around; they’re in for some unexpected prizes. S’mores are also on repeat with this group, and the adults are chastising the kids for eating too many marshmallows, all the while sneaking too many themselves. (It doesn’t count if the kids don’t see you.) A family of deer pass by as the last of the graham crackers disappears, and we’re all fixated on them for a moment. They hold our attention only slightly less than Ryan’s drone. (Hello, modern world.)
Ruby Claire is dancing around the room; Big Ethan is trying to get her attention; Cricket’s trying to get his. Little Ethan’s following this love triangle around. Emma Vance is asking for more goldfish (in between those repetitive choruses of “Baba Black Sheep”). Weston’s getting food or dirt or something on him somewhere out of sight. Annabel’s curled up in her mommy’s lap. Charlotte’s curled up, too, silently observing the world around her, and Peyton’s trying to crawl (mostly away from the Shove girls’ attentions). The men are sneaking away without much stealth to “tend to the fire” while they leave the women to watch the children; the women are onto them (because we know that “tending to the fire” shouldn’t require beer or cigars or more than five minutes).
We’ve chatted and chowed down and chased children for two days straight, and we’re all tired. There are boardgames to be cleaned up, dishes to be washed, leftovers to be scarfed down. Clothes are stuffed back into bags; trash is also stuffed into bags; pretty much everything is stuffed into bags and then into cars. It’s been another cabin trip for the books, and this weekend marks another year living life with our friends, with our small group. Driving away, as the sun is setting and the cold is settling in, I can’t help but put myself back around that fire pit. The sky is black and the stars are bright. The kids are all peacefully and miraculously asleep at the same time. There’s laughter and storytelling and deep contemplating happening, and while we’re around that fire pit each year, I’m reminded that circles are better than rows. So. Much. Better.