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wanting what you have

2018 September 4
by Rachel Turiel

We head out of town for six days, Dan and I hungry for adventure, for family connectedness, for the magic that happens when we’re all together, peeling off layers of modern complexity. The kids are skeptical, unsure if they want to unplug from friends, home, and flush toilets. Rose wonders, her voice slightly accusatory, a lawyer preparing her argument: will there be any mosquitos? “Yes, Rose. There will be mosquitos,” Dan says. “At least one. Named Fred,” I add. She is not amused.

We arrive at our first spot by late afternoon. We’re going to stay in a tipi, we’ve told the kids with the kind of enthusiasm that works on toddlers, or like we’re impersonating telemarketers trying to upsell the experience of camping. The interior—floor rugs, furniture, bed—is covered with a layer of dirt. “I get the bed,” Col announces about the saggy futon dusted in silt. No one argues with him.

The farm is funky, gardens and pigs interspersed with random, handbuilt outbuildings, like someone prepared for an influx of interns who never came.

I am ready to unload the car, to find a broom and sweep out the tipi, when Rose grabs my hand and bursts into tears. She’s sad about finishing the last Harry Potter book in the car, about our dirt-strewn quarters, the composting toilet, and her two friends swimming at the lake together back in Durango without her. At this stage of my education I am so clear that an outburst of feelings is like sap developing in a tree wound, the psyche’s healthy response to emotional pain. There is nothing to fix, to explain, to change. In fact, the most helpful thing I can do is not obstruct the flow, to allow mourning to be a healing response to sadness.

I hold her and hug her and listen. I put myself in her shoes. “You will miss Harry, Ron and Hermione so much! They were like reliable buddies all summer,” I venture. She cries harder for a moment, but I know this helps the sadness burn cleaner and quicker.

“Hey Rose,” Col interrupts, “There’s a ping-pong table in the farmhouse. Come play!” Rose nods and then tells me, “I want to go play but I just don’t want to be distracted from being sad.”

“You want to get it all out so you can go play with your mind free?”


Rose’s mind clears and she joins Col. The farm manager finds us and explains the rules, like “no fires, unless you really want one.” He grants Dan permission to shoot his bow into the huge mound of horse manure. And he offers to sweep out our lodgings. “I guess we haven’t had visitors for a while,” he says.

Dan cracks a beer. We haul sleeping bags to our newly swept tipi. We watch the farmer toss a wheelbarrow of pot trimmings to the pigs, which they devour (they are lusty eaters, standing in their food troughs as they eat, tossing empty bowls in the air in protest). We visit the 3-month old piglets, who flop onto their sides, letting us scratch their soft bellies, during which they go from instantly alert to deep slumber.

Post-snuggle coma.

Col removes a chicken from my back.

Later, Dan keeps snapping pictures of me cooking dinner on our camp stove. Why? Cause he’s had two beers? Because he’s on vacation? Because I look good in the blazing yellow rabbitbrush? Because wanting what you have is the best strategy for having what you want?

We play fierce, after-dinner rounds of doubles ping-pong, and walking back to our tipi, orange sunset fireworks exploding over the dry hills, Rose asks, “can we stay here two nights?”

Day Two

Driving from Fort Garland, CO to Questa, NM under a sky that seems to unfold exponentially as we head south, Dan, Rose and I discuss the op-ed I want to write called “Why you should delay giving your child a smartphone.” (Dan edited my original title: “Don’t give your child a $%@*! smartphone!”). Col is absorbed in a novel and can’t be accessed.

Me: “So, there’s the addictive part.”

Dan: “What about addictions that are good?”

Me: “I can’t think of any good addictions.”

Rose: “What about books?”

Me: Silence.

40 year old farm with 40 year old playground equipment.

We arrive at the Taos Goji Berry Farm and hear from the hosts that the bears have “been active” in the apple orchard we had reserved for camping. We get an instant upgrade into the cottonwood grove, strung with hammocks and solar lights. We spend the evening unpacking, visiting the farm animals and chatting with the owners who’ve been here over 40 years and say it’s the driest year they remember. We eat lentils, rice and veggies doused in peanut-ginger sauce from a bottle. “A very expensive bottle,” Dan adds, testing the theory that people value things that cost a lot. The kids devour several helpings, the sky pinks up and then fades to black and we crawl into our sleeping bags feeling warm and full, in multiple ways.

Day Three

The kids wake up thinking of nothing but oatmeal. We’ve brought hippie single serve packets and like kings with their gold, each morning is spent counting, fondling, and trading their great, sugary wealth.

Just outside the Goji Berry Farm we discover loaded oak trees, acorns so ripe if you stand under them you can hear them plink to the ground. They are delicious raw, mild and nutty, and we scoop them off the ground on the side of the dusty road.

I am already feeling the wild magic of being together, the layers of complexity peeling away, the simplicity of fewer options, the relief of our four schedules synching up, even if the current agenda item is sip coffee in the cottonwood grove while the kids tally up oatmeal packets.

We hike to hot springs on the Rio Grande, everyone engaging in their own distinct style. This is so fun, Rose shouts as the river currents carry her downstream, again and again. Col digs canals in the sand and Dan and I clock into the hot pool like relaxation is our job.

Hiking out we spy a small herd of bighorn sheep. Col grabs my hand and whispers, “this is so exciting.”

Dan and I are calling this trip ‘The Family Celebration Trip,’ partly because we’re both oriented toward meaning-making (while not so skilled at American fun, outside of I don’t know, reading and stalking elk with whittled stick weapons), and because themes create family cohesiveness (see: meaning!). We introduce this idea to the kids, who are skeptical but lubricated by the chips and salsa we’re eating at a Taos restaurant.

We practice. “I’m celebrating that Col chose veggie filling in his, er deep fried burrito.”

Dan: “I’m celebrating that Rachel is still my dream date after all these years.” The kids groan on cue.

Dan gives them each a sheet, titled “Family Celebration Trip 2018” to fill out while we’re waiting for our food. 1) What do you want to celebrate from your life this past year? 2) What do you want to celebrate about another family member? 3) What is one thing about the world (independent of you) that you want to celebrate? Everyone scribbles away and we agree to read our answers aloud later.

After dinner the sky cracks open and Rose and I run, holding hands, towards our car in the chilling rain.

Day Four

We pack up after the daily oatmeal and coffee celebration. The kids are broken in to our temporary lifestyle, in which we have everything we want because it’s precisely all we have. No one has mentioned electronics since we left home, electronic-less.

This is so good for them, Dan and I whisper, in a stolen moment together. But, also for us. Being present to these children, tending to what arises in the moment without distraction feels like a balm for some modern ailment.

I notice that Rose and I are developing an implicit agreement around challenging emotions. She knows to lay her raw emotion at my feet, that I will hold her fears, anger and jealousies, and that she will emerge feeling lighter. She needs empathy for missing her friends, for school starting, for Col breaking his hammock agreement and not following daily oatmeal protocol. And each time, it feels like we’re underwater together, dog-paddling through the discomfort. And my role is just to stay with her, to exude care, to paddle into the waves alongside her, to say without words: your emotions are nothing to be scared of, to toss away all my previous training that sees pain and wants to distract, fix, educate. And sometimes, I think: this time we might not emerge, like when she says I’m ready to go home“ and we have two more nights away. But I keep swimming, holding her hand, listening, seeing it from her perspective, and suddenly she’s in the hammock calling out cheerfully, “watch this, it’s called the hang-glider move!”

Col needs less empathy, but more help uncovering what’s important to him in the moment. Like last night, we’re in our tent in the cottonwood grove, and he finishes the book stapled to his hands for the past three days and immediately starts talking, singing, poking me, rolling on top of me. “Hey Col, I noticed you finished your book and now it seems like you’re wanting something from me. I’m really wanting to read and relax. Do you know what you want?”

“Attention,” he says, point blank.

“Oh. Ok. How ‘bout I rub your back while I read?”

Col: “That would be wonderful.”

Day Five

We wake up back in Colorado, in a snug A-frame cabin on the Conejos River. We drove in on the heels of a storm and the willows are shiny, the meadows rain polished, and everything is the tawny color of summer fading out. We set off early for fishing, and already by 10am the sky is more cloud than blue.

The kids cast and reel, cast and reel while a wild storm charges down valley. The sky turns grey-blue and the first drops of rain come fast. We hustle back to the car, feet soaked, lightning smacking nearby peaks. As Dan drives down the muddy, washboard road, lightning cracking open the sky, a balloon Rose is playing with in the backseat pops suddenly just behind Dan’s head. He jumps about a foot. “You didn’t think that was actually lightning did you?” Rose asks. “Well, no, but it’s like you’re about to shoot a deer, ready to pull the trigger and your buddy shouts ‘BANG’!”

Back at our cabin rain obscures the valley. I make hot chocolate, coffee and snacks, and we gather to complete our celebration exploration, which includes reading our pep-talks from last year, writing new ones and setting goals. Col scribbles, “I want to be nicer to Rose.”

Can we just stay here forever, doing our nerdy family exercises, playing board games, hiding out from the complexities of American culture, eating out of our cooler where everything tastes amazing because it’s exactly what we have?

We play endless rounds of Exploding Kittens on the pullout futon in front of the glowing woodstove, Dan shelling acorns (1, then 2, then 100). Col accuses Rose of cheating every time she wins. She tells him, indignantly, in a spectacular storm of mixed metaphors, “Well, you’re not the brightest knife in the shaft!” I ponder the mystery of family. How for so many years the kids seemed to inhabit every molecule of our personal space, their needs tendrilling out so compellingly that I couldn’t distinguish my own from theirs. And now, as they inch slowly farther from us, their worlds expanding, it is us sometimes pursuing them, wanting to be in their orbit.

The sun sweeps away clouds. Day passes into evening. Our focus is on what is right in front of us, and it feels like celebration: dinner, two fresh trout; the kids’ shared laughter; the shooting star Rose and I spot simultaneously; this current, fleeting configuration of family.

There were no mosquitos.

18 Responses leave one →
  1. Mollie permalink
    September 4, 2018

    “How for so many years the kids seemed to inhabit every molecule of our personal space, their needs tendrilling out so compellingly that I couldn’t distinguish my own from theirs.”

    Yes! Such a wild ride.

  2. Ellen permalink
    September 4, 2018

    I feel like I’ve been on this vacation trip with you all. Thank you!!

  3. September 4, 2018

    Head shaking
    Heart opening
    feeble ilg bows in wow
    of your tremendous Clan
    and of your chronically beautiful
    tapestry of words which transform

  4. September 4, 2018

    I so feel Rose about wanting to hold onto that sadness for leaving book friends behind. That’s the best part of later re-reading favorite books though; you get to experience that love and heartbreak all over again.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 7, 2018

      Yes, With new eyes and perspective each time. But, maybe also you can never recapture that first time.

  5. September 4, 2018

    Oh Rachel… I’m drinking your words like the most wonderful wine… We have spent the summer in Quebec and are leaving in a week… I’m so looking forward to our little family bubble and nerdy family exercises! Thank you for this.

  6. Maggie Jess permalink
    September 4, 2018

    I still find I have no words in reply to yours so eloquently served… You move me.

  7. Ellie Pojarska permalink
    September 4, 2018

    Rachel, how much I love this–the trip, your account of it, the kids’ hilarious comments. Also, I am so relieved that Exploding Kittens is happening in Colorado, too.

  8. Anonymous permalink
    September 5, 2018

    Ok this one made me cry.

  9. Judy permalink
    September 6, 2018

    Hi Rachel – that’s so generous of you to include so many in the glimpses of your precious times together. I loved how you were there for Rose’s grief & longing – and how she sprang to freedom afterwards

  10. Kyce Bello permalink
    September 6, 2018

    It is so righteous that you come to New Mexico for vacations. Looks like you were in my old neighborhood. Pretty sure that swing set is an old friend’s place…or was back in the day!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 7, 2018

      I’m so intrigued by New Mexico! There’s a certain authenticity that appeals to me.

  11. September 7, 2018

    deliciously intentional. very curious about all these recreational eco tours. i still get the blues each time i finish harry potter. xoxo

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 7, 2018

      We have friends who run recreational tours in Durango. They’re lovely people. They take good care of people, feed them good food and keep it all mellow. :)

  12. Linda permalink
    September 9, 2018

    I loved every single word of this one. “…the tawny color of summer fading out” hits an especially personal note for me. I’m so glad to want the friend that I have.
    my deepest appreciation for your writing and sharing.
    P.S. to Dan-I came across your wedding invitation this week – I’m not surprised you’re still dream dating.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 11, 2018

      I’m happy for you, Linda, to hear you have the friend you want, and tickled that you still have our wedding invitation!

  13. September 10, 2018

    what a whirl wind…wonderful family adventures :)

  14. Drew permalink
    September 12, 2018

    Rachel, this is a beautiful “showing” description of how holding space for, and staying close to, uncomfortable emotions AS THEY HAPPEN is such a more sane path through them than the myriad attempts we make to “deal” with them (most of which involve conflict/denial/avoidance). I’m extremely impressed with Rose’s self-awareness of this process… far better than mine most of the time! I have a lot to learn still. Thanks as always for sharing.

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