This was a long, hot summer.
For months, sporadic wildfires indiscriminately blazed through brush, over hillsides, along highways and even through neighborhoods. On a handful of occasions, hazy brown clouds rose from the east and cast an eerie amber glow on endless summer days. This evergreen state dried out and turned yellow with dark scars of char and ash here and there. Burn bans were the law of the land, roads and state parks closed for a while and news of danger and destruction spread like wildfire not only locally, but nationally.
We caught wind of these stories in late June, and they blew through July and August. Come September, on the heels of a big move and a bigger remodel, of depleted bank accounts and recovering credit from said remodel, of untimely vacancies and vacation rentals, of paddleboarding and projects left done, of soccer practices and tournaments, of summer camps and family visits, of road trips and a broken down truck (twice), of a boat that hadn't seen water all summer and an epic windstorm that left us without running water or power for days, of burn bans and wildfires... there were at least a hundred reasons why we couldn't -- shouldn't -- pack up our car Labor Day morning and spend a week camping in Chelan.
We received notice one week prior to our scheduled departure that due to the nearby fires, the State Park would likely be closed during the dates of our stay. Two days later, we received notice otherwise, as well as an invitation to spend the holiday weekend with family friends.
So 84 days after summer vacation began, when blessed Labor Day weekend arrived, each member of my family was faced with a choice: to camp or not to camp. And each member of my family -- some more decidedly than others -- opted for the latter: to skip the trip and hang with friends. I, however, chose the former. This Labor Day, I went on our family vacation by myself.
I planned, prepped, shopped and packed for Lake Chelan on my own. I drove, unpacked, set up camp and spent a week solo. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't sad and disappointed about it at first. I sincerely believed my husband and children made the right choice in making the wrong choice. Part of me still does. One could easily argue the same about me. I wasn't sure how to wrap my brain or my heart, around each of our decisions.
There's no question about it, I enjoy camping infinitely more than my family does. And my family enjoys spending time with other people far more and far more often than I do. Effectually, Paul, Maya and Cole each shirked a commitment that had been on the calendar for a year in the interest of friendship, of fear, of work, of circumstance, of soccer... They chose their friends over family and I chose solitude, fresh air, simplicity and sunshine over both family and friends.
Chelan has been the highlight of my summer for the last few years, and this summer was no exception. I would have been SO bummed if I went along with the crowd and spent the last week of the summer doing more of the same at home. Paul would have begrudgingly skipped a fun few days with a good friend to watch me pack, then spent the week's remainder absent, conflicted and stressed. The kids would have missed out on ATVs and dune buggies, the last practices before the first matches of the season and time with friends. Maya would spend the week terrified of potential storms and wildfires and Cole would be without the potential of a sleepover for five days.
The thing is, we were each true to our hearts and our desires, and this led us down different paths. I am an introvert in a home full of extroverts, and my companions are extroverts living with an introvert. These simple facts requires compromise from each of us almost daily. The difference this September, however, is that nobody compromised; we went our separate ways and once the dust had settled on our decisions, once expectations, guilt and obligations were stripped away, we each had a great week. So what do we do with that?
I'm not really sure, because we each had a great week. I loved my family vacation without my family. I did EVERYTHING I wanted to do for a week for as long as I wanted to do it. I had an amazing week, and honestly, I'm already daydreaming about my next solo camping trip and the solitary vacation after that. And I suspect Maya and Cole and Paul each came alive in a way that they just don't when I'm around. They stayed away in the company of friends far longer than I would have happily tolerated. There was no sweeping or cooking for an entire week. Paul worked, the kids played then worked, then played some more and mostly, they were glad about it.
Do I love my family? Yes. Do I believe they love me too? Yes. Do I wish to spend this life without them? Of course not. Did we miss one another during our week apart? Yes and No. Sort of, but not really.
This is pretty different from the families I read about or see on television or in my community. I don't have a model for this, and I'm not sure how to weave this thread of curious insight into our family fabric. But I know I felt alive and at peace while I was away, and I enjoyed this summer's solo conclusion far more than its communal commencement. I know the run-on (and on and on and on...) sentence of this summer was marked with an exclamation point, and I know I'd definitely like to try that last part again.