Whenever I hear the term “Epic Fail,” I think of the time my family went on a camping trip with my husband’s brothers and their families.
There was a time when we went on these trips together at least once every summer. Each family brought their own tent and supplies, and we all shared one central fire and picnic area. Our kids got to run wild with their cousins, and we adults had an opportunity to spend time with each other and remember how much fun we could have as a family. It was a great bonding experience, a wonderful bit of family togetherness to cherish.
That’s how it usually worked, anyway.
The trip I remember as a failure took place over a long holiday weekend, although I don’t remember now exactly what holiday it was. We only had our two oldest kids at that time. They were almost old enough to have a bit of independence, but not quite; their cousins were all just old enough to be in charge if we let the five of them go off together without parental supervision.
Remember that. It will be very important later in the story.
When we arrived at the campsite Friday night, Middle Brother’s family had their tent set up and their supplies stacked around one of the picnic tables. We unloaded, pitched our tent, and sat down for a little chat while waiting for Little Brother and his family. I grabbed my Diet Coke, plunked myself down on the bench of one of the picnic tables, and very quickly realized that the bench was not bolted to the rest of the table.
The other end flipped up like something out of an old slapstick movie, tossing me on my butt in the middle of the coolers and backpacks. Everybody got a good laugh, I got some nice bruises and a funny story to tell, and life went on. With a replacement picnic table, naturally.
Back then, we always had to choose campgrounds close to home because our dog was not socialized at all. There was no way we could have brought her along on our camping trips, and we had no one to dog-sit for us, which meant that we always had to make a few trips home each day to let her in and out and give her some company. On the first night of this camping trip, we waited until the kids were asleep in our tent with their aunts and uncles to watch over them, and headed home to tend to Kipper.
It was a fifteen-minute drive. Our driveway was dark and uneven, and I stepped out of the car and into a hole; I twisted my ankle, lost my balance, and rolled down the hill toward the pine tree.
“Where the hell did you go?” the Big Guy shouted.
“Mrph!” I yelled back, which translates roughly to, “Yuck, I think I landed in dog shit and there are pine needles in my mouth.”
“You stink,” he said helpfully as he pulled me up to my feet. “I think you might have landed in something.”
After I showered, he wrapped my ankle and helped me back into the car for the ride back to the campground. Two falls in less than five hours really didn’t prepare me for a night on the ground in a sleeping bag, so I was not in a great mood by the following morning when I dragged myself to the bathrooms.
There was a small play area near the public restrooms, and a tiny child was playing all alone on the swing set. I smiled as I watched her swing higher and higher; she reminded me of my own daughter at that age, and I started feeling better as warm, nostalgic feelings flooded through me. Right up until the little one lost her grip on the swing and fell right on her face in the sand.
I helped her up and tried to brush some of the sand off. She had these great big blue eyes and her lower lip was trembling, and my heart just melted. Poor thing, I thought. Scared by a big fall, and now a complete stranger was all in her face brushing sand off her.
“Is it okay if I help you wipe your face?” I asked, as gently as possible.
She nodded. I want to be very clear on that: She nodded. She gave me permission to wipe her face.
And then she bit me.
Right on my index finger, deep enough to break the skin and draw blood. Then she tore off across the field, howling, “Stranger danger! Stranger danger!” at the top of her lungs.
I ducked into the bathroom and stayed in there a little longer than was really necessary. By the time I hobbled back to our campsite, the coffee was ready. The Big Guy helped me set up my chair and a nice log as a footrest for my damaged ankle, and then treated my injured finger. There were definitely times when it came in handy to be married to a fireman.
My daughter crawled out of our tent a short time later and took one look at my propped-up sprained ankle and my bandaged finger. “Mom, your hair looks really bad today,” she announced.
Lovely set of priorities.
The weekend went downhill from there. Little Brother’s wife and I took the car into town for supplies later that day and burned out a bearing in our car. I don’t know what or where a bearing is, but apparently it’s never a good thing to keep driving when there is smoke pouring out of any part of a moving vehicle. Live and learn, I suppose.
The lake was experiencing unusually low water levels that summer, so the Big Guy had trouble launching our fishing boat. He backed the truck into the lake all the way up to the axle, and still the water was too shallow to float the boat off the trailer. He finally became so irritated that he drove out of the water, boat and all, and kept right on going without a word to any of us – past our campsite, out the front drive, and on down the road.
“I don’t think we’re using the boat this weekend,” Middle Brother observed as we watched him go.
By the time the Big Guy reappeared a few hours later – without the boat but in a better mood – it had started raining. I am not talking about a little trickle. Not even one of those huge, sudden downpours or gullywashers that hit hard and then stop. I am talking about heavy, steady, solid sheets of rain that fell with no sign of stopping.
For the next two days.
Have I mentioned that we were in tents? Everything got wet and stayed that way. Everything. Everyone. Everywhere.
Luckily for all of us, the campground had a very nice community building with a room full of board games and other fun activities for the kids. With the three older cousins in charge of our two little ones, we felt safe sending them off for an afternoon of fun, unsupervised dry play.
In retrospect, that was probably not a wise decision.
I should explain a little something about these particular five kids. They are all very smart, good kids. Well, three of the five are adults by now, but still very smart, good adults. They have never been the type to get into trouble. But there is a problem when their youngest and my oldest get together: as a team, they very nearly have nuclear capability. They come up with crazy ideas together that neither one of them would ever think up alone. And when they start plotting and egging each other along, it has never occurred to any of the other three to run for an adult. Or the police, for that matter.
On this occasion, one of Trouble Twins suggested that it might be fun to roll down the steep, grassy hill outside the community building. And it was fun; they did it over and over and over for hours. They did it until the grass became even more slippery with mud, and still they continued rolling in it. By the time they wore themselves out, they were no longer recognizable as children.
They were faceless, indistinguishable mudballs with feet.
I dragged mine back to the community building and pushed them into a shower stall, fully clothed. Eventually, I had to climb in with them to help scrub mud out of a few crevices that really embarrassed all three of us. Of course, I lost a contact lens in the process.
The last day of the trip dawned clear and dry and beautiful. We hung our wet clothes – and blankets, sleeping bags, and towels – and sat back to enjoy the gorgeous Michigan sunshine, trying desperately to salvage a tiny bit of fun out of our disaster weekend.
Only to discover that we are the kind of people who are bored out of our minds when everything goes well.
“Epic Failure” for my family meant rolling with the punches – or rolling down hills in some cases – when things went wrong. It meant that we had the absolute worst camping trip ever, a trip when everything went wrong, and still had a blast. It turned out to be the weekend that gave us some of our favorite family memories as one of the best weekends ever.
Epic Fail? We can never fail as long as we remember to enjoy the disasters.
This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, in which writers and bloggers finish a sentence and “link up” their posts. This week’s sentence was “Whenever I hear the term “Epic Fail,” I think of the time…”
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