Natural Habitat ~ Sarah M. Wells

“Drip, drip, drop
When the sky is cloudy
You come along, come along with your
Pretty little song”

from Disney’s Bambi – “Little April Showers”


After the bison stuck their long, muddy snouts fully through the rolled-down windows of our Ford Expedition and the kids shrieked with glee, we rolled up the windows and watched a sheet of rain advance toward our car. Brandon and I looked uneasily at each other.

“It wasn’t supposed to storm today,” I said, trying to pull up the radar on my phone, “Maybe it’ll blow through quickly.” But the sky to the west looked black with rain. It dripped and dribbled and then dumped onto the truck, our wipers whipping the water off of the windshield. “At least we did all of the outside activities first,” I said over my shoulder to the kids.

The morning was filled with camel rides, monkeys, and Henry terrified by the spitting alpacas. After a quick sack lunch at the African Wildlife Safari Park, we drove through the “safari” part of the park, Brandon and I taking turns holding the feed cup out the window as the passengers of our car giggled. Most of the animals in the park are endangered species, and none of them are native to this region of Ohio. Reindeer, alpaca, bongo, Sika deer, llamas, Scottish Highlanders, and bison wandered freely through the overgrown grasses and dust, in front of and around the line of cars, hoping to grab a nibble before the rain came down. Their offspring trotted close by, and we imagined the alpaca parents explaining the daily operations, “You see, kids, when the doors open and the metal people-carriers approach, trot up and smear your noses against the glass until they stick out the nuggets of food. Some of them have carrots; go for those any chance you get.” We rounded the bend toward the final drive-thru exhibit of giraffes and zebras when the rain started.

Now the rain poured down and the sky blackened. We emptied the remaining nuggets of feed onto the ground and tossed the cup in the garbage bin at the exit. The outdoor temperature reading on our truck dropped from the low-90s to mid-60s over the remainder of our fifteen-minute drive. We took Route 2 at a minimum speed while the rain formed temporary rivulets across two lanes. The rear-view mirror reflected the clouds in the west, flashing with lightning.

“What if there’s a tornado?” Lydia asked, and Elvis worried with her.

“There won’t be a tornado, guys,” I said, glancing sideways at Brandon in the driver’s seat and then back at the rear-view mirror, “You’re safe.  You have nothing to worry about.”

The camp site was about five miles down the interstate, just passed the exit for Cedar Point. The kids were all still too young for the amusement park… at least the part of the park we were willing to pay for. I found our campground through, a daily discount email. The African Wildlife Safari Park had been listed in the same email, and it seemed like a brilliant way to spend a few days—visiting animals and then camping with the kids.

It was still pouring as we exited the highway. The GPS lady announced, “Turn right at the exit. In 500 feet, your destination is on the right.” Five hundred feet? I thought to myself. That can’t be right.

It was right. We pulled into Camp Sandusky. A crumbling asphalt basketball half-court with a rusting hoop of chain-metal net leaned toward the earth as if gravity itself were bringing it down, the court sagging into the dirt. A large corporate for-sale sign was staked into the front lawn.

“This doesn’t look anything like the website,” I told Brandon. He laughed under his breath.

It was still pouring. Brandon put the truck into park and slowed the windshield wipers to a more moderate pace. We could see the pool tucked behind the campground’s general store. It looked clean but smaller than I expected, and no kiddie pool. To the right stood rows upon rows of cabins, ten-by-ten garden sheds with two windows and a door.

“Those sure look rustic,” I offered. The highway roared to the right. I had no idea the campground was so close to the road. I should’ve looked at a map before making the reservation. But who imagines a campground right next to the highway? “Maybe our cabin is a bigger one.”

We still had about a half-hour until check-in at 3 p.m. I wasn’t sure if we could back out of our reservation, but given that the coupon was for $25, it didn’t seem like the end of the world to abandon our plans and drive home with some disappointed kids, maybe catch an afternoon movie at the dollar theatre until the rain stopped.

“I think it’s slowing down,” Lydia said, “It won’t be that bad. Can we go to our cabin now?”  I smiled as the wind drove the rain into the side of our car. Lightning flashed again. Lydia is her mother’s daughter. It’s just a little rain, pitter-patter pitter-patter, this is fun, look at it come down! drip drip drop when the sky is cloudy, your pretty little song will brighten the day… Always able to find the rainbow even when there wasn’t one, the blackest sky alight only by jabs of electricity. Brandon and I continued to try to refresh the radar on our phones but couldn’t get a signal.

“Well, what do you want to do, Sarah?” Brandon asked. I had imagined twenty-four hours of hiking, picnicking, swimming, grilling, and roasting marshmallows around the campfire. I had imagined a bright sun, a kiddie pool, reclining in a patio chair with a book and a bottle of water, my kids splashing and laughing. I had imagined casually tossing a football back and forth with my family, nothing but the sounds of nature as a backdrop. I had not imagined the highway roaring behind the campground. I had not imagined sheds. I had not imagined mud. I had not imagined a fallow cornfield and no trails. I sighed and avoided Brandon’s question, pressed update on my phone again, hoping this time the radar would appear with a forecast bright and clear of rain.


Vacations generally do not turn out the way I envision them. I don’t know how these fantasies about what a family vacation ought to look like got planted in my brain; just because it is a vacation does not mean that the family members all turn into optimistic, adventure-loving, starry-eyed explorers. No, a family vacation simply removes the natural habitat of the cranky, the lazy, the whiny, the optimistic, and the determined-to-have-an-amazing-time, and dumps them together into another habitat to continue operating within their default setting. Together, the varying species trot around the feed truck and wait for meals, pressing their snotty noses against the glass and whining, “When is dinner? What are we having? I’m bored!” I should know this by now. With as much evidence as I’ve accrued over the last thirty years, I do not know why I expect otherwise.

After childhood birthdays spent in a tent or camper with my family or carsick in the back seat driving from one tourist trap to the Hoover Dam, after driving through Yosemite National Park and only stopping briefly to peer over the edge of all sorts of scenic overlooks but never actually hiking into the wilderness we viewed from the window of our rented minivan, after passing the putt-putt golf course and maze castle back and forth from the Daytona race track to the cabin with the cockroaches and yard of rotting oranges, after driving for three days to vacation for two and then turning around again to go home, after leaving the Outer Banks a couple days early because there’s nothing more to do at the beach, after watching for Dad to arrive late Friday night to camp with us for the weekend, after stopping every exit along the interstate until we found the one hotel with vacancy… oh, after all of these things, and more, why should I expect anything more than craziness, disappointment, utter disasters of vacations we can all laugh at with abandon, at the safe distance of at least five years or so down the road?

“You remember the time we drove to the Hoover Dam on your birthday making ‘dam’ jokes the entire way?” Dad laughs. “‘You kids ready for the dam tour?’ ‘Where can we get some dam bait?’”  I had fumed in the back seat of the minivan, angry to be away from my boyfriend on my sixteenth birthday, stuck in the car with my family.

I never miss my cue, “Can you please stop with the damn jokes already?” Good times. Fun times.


Last June, we set up two campsites with my side of the family as a cold wind whipped across West Branch State Park’s lake, blowing heavy bursts of rain through the trees that lined the shore. My brother and his wife and my mom and dad shared one camper and Brandon and I and the kids shared another, parked side-by-side along the lake. Lydia was six, Elvis almost five and Henry just over a year old.

It had been four years since our last attempt at a family vacation with my side of the family. The Great North Myrtle Beach Vacation Disaster, when my stay-at-home husband and mild mannered mom set out around 8 p.m. Friday night to drive through the night to North Myrtle Beach in our van with over 180,000 miles on it, and our kids took turns screaming all through the night, and Mom had to hold a blanket up over the window so the streetlights wouldn’t keep our infant son and toddler daughter awake, and Brandon peed beside the sliding passenger door while he filled up the van with gas so as not to delay the time the kids had to sit and scream in all of that light (light like daylight, light like awake-time) from the BP gas station. After they got to Myrtle and settled in, Bambi jumped in front of Brandon’s van on his way to pick me up from the airport Tuesday night. Bambi survived, staggered off the road and ran into the brush. The van staggered down the road and stopped, the hood caved in. He called AAA, I rented a van at the airport, and when we finally rolled in to the two-bedroom condo, our kids woke up and wouldn’t go back to sleep the entire night, all four of us in one bedroom, Elvis in a pack-n-play in the bathroom and Lydia’s pack-n-play wedged in the closet. The next day, Mom and I walked the beach with Lydia toddling in and out of the surf, and Mom said, “I’m worried about Brandon. He gets so angry. I can’t imagine he’d ever do anything, but… do you think the kids are safe?” and I nodded, aware how hard this transition had been for him, stay-at-home dad with two children under two and me at work all week. My dad and brothers arrived in time for Thanksgiving and then prepared to leave again on Friday, and I exploded about how this always happens! you always leave early! can’t you just relax, can’t you just enjoy our company, my kids, my husband, our family, me? We drove home in a rented minivan because our own van was not yet repaired from the Bambi incident, and a week later Brandon flew back to Myrtle to pick up our van with the repaired but not painted hood. It was the most expensive “free” trip we’d ever taken. And then my mom’s dad died ten days later.

Not enough time had passed for us to joke about that trip. It hadn’t quite lost its sting.

My youngest brother, Phil, had a blowout fight with my dad earlier in the week and had no intentions of joining us at West Branch that weekend. I was holding out hope for a grand time, remembering my own childhood camping trips with my parents and brothers, riding our bicycles on pathways carved by raccoons, swimming in Punderson Lake, playing rummy, catching fish with my grandpa, making hobo pies with Mom, and telling stories around the campfire. “There once was a guy with a wooden eye. He was always embarrassed by his eye, but, building up courage, he asked a lady to dance. She had an enormous nose, and he figured, well, maybe she’d understand him. ‘Oh, would I!’ she said. He got all excited, shouting and pointing, ‘Big nose! Big nose!’” (Get it? Wood eye? Funny, right?) Dad’s suntanned face creased around his eyes as he guffawed, the fire bright and hot on the bottoms of our soles.

Those hopes gradually dissolved in the rain as my dad doused our firewood with lighter fluid. We huddled under umbrellas and hooded rain jackets around the ring, our teeth chattering, the kids chittering excitedly inside the camper, not sleeping.

In the morning, my mom and I cooked eggs and bacon over the lighter-fluid fire, still battling the chilly air, intensified by the lake. This figures!  I muttered. We can’t plan anything. It’s freaking June, sixty degrees out, and gusting like a hurricane. The leaves of trees danced silver and green in the wind. Brandon kept his “I told you so” to himself while our kids watched a movie on the portable DVD player in the camper. My dad and Bill got in the truck, “We’re going to go get Phillip,” they grunted, “and some fishing rods. And worms.”

The rest of us took the kids to the playground and marveled at how much warmer it was just a few hundred feet away from the lake. “We should move the campers inland,” we decided, and hope blossomed anew. Maybe we could redeem this camping trip after all. The guys were still gone by the time the kids were tired of the playground. Brandon and I teetered over the limestone boulders down to the lake side so the kids could throw in sticks.

“Watch where you step. Don’t get too close to the water,” our song like a round between us, taking turns shouting at our kids. I had forgotten about the boulders along the lake, the ever-present danger we so readily ignored as kids ourselves, Bill, Phil, and me bold and leaping rock to rock. Poor Mom. Elvis and Lydia hunted for pebbles and sticks to throw into the water, their bodies wavering and swaying unbalanced by the shore. “Don’t poke that stick in that hole; there might be a snake down there!” Brandon and I sat poised on our own rocks, shivering, prepared to catch one of our brave children if one tripped, certain it would happen any second. We couldn’t take any more. “Okay, enough, let’s go back to the campsite. Maybe Pop-Pop is back.”

At lunch we moved the campers to a less windy part of the park. Phillip didn’t come with my brother and dad, after all. His absence hovered a bit, whistled through the branches overhead. Dad uttered his regret about their fight, “Phil should be here,” he said as we walked toward the playground where the kids were playing with Brandon. Dad utters regret often these days. The should’ve’s and could’ve’s and if only’s roll out like waves in the wake of a speedboat on the lake. I try to soothe the burn when I can, shore up the tide with some Look at all you’ve done for us and Look at all you’ve built around you and Look at your grandchildren, your children, your wife, but it’s only half-hearted—he was gone a lot, worked hard, long hours, came home worn out and weary, no time for play, no time for games, no time for vacation, just work and TV and sleep, precious sleep, napping on the couch, cap tipped low over closed eyes and snores, boots crossed at the ankles on the coffee table.

“He’ll get over it,” I said to Dad, about Phil, “You guys will work it out.”

Bill and his wife, Rachel, walked down to the edge of the small inlet with Brandon, me, and the kids while Henry took his nap. The trees blocked the wind, permitted rays of light to dance on low waves. We showed the kids how to skip rocks across the shallow pond. It was just like old times, only instead of Dad or Grandpa, we baited the hooks, untangled the fishing wire, demonstrated how to cast and reel and then handed over the rod to eager fingers. When Lydia caught a fish, though, we asked Uncle Bill to let it loose, all of us squealing like a bunch of little girls as it bent against his palm.


In the months and years after Lydia reeled in her first fish (just a little four-inch bluegill), she will remind us of this moment, “Remember the time I caught a fish?” and I will hear myself at eight and nine and ten and eleven, reminiscing about the eight fish I caught with Dad on my eighth birthday. What a day that was, there by the shore of some anonymous pond in Geauga County, just me and Dad and a tackle box, a Styrofoam container of night crawlers in black soil, and two rods, just us, fishing silent alone together until we caught one, then two, then three, then four, then five, then six, then seven, then eight! Eight fish!

It was the same pond the five of us floated on in a rowboat sometime that same era of my childhood, maybe even that same summer. I can imagine myself begging to go back to the pond after we caught all of those fish; I can imagine bringing it up again and again to Dad. When, when can we go to the pond again, Dad? I’m sure it was just a shallow pool of water but it felt like it spread for miles. The top of the rowboat barely stayed above the surface as we paddled along, the five of us, all of us, Dad and Mom and me and Bill and Phil, together, rowing in a scary wooden boat around a pond. We got yelled at for almost tipping the boat, hold still, sit in the middle, don’t lean over the edge like that! but the sun glistened on the surface, the cattails danced, frogs jumped into the water, and our hearts leapt with fear and joy. Do you remember the fish? Do you remember the pond? Do you remember?


After we all grew tired of casting and reeling, untangling fishing wire and re-baiting hooks, catching children before they were whacked in the eye by a mid-cast fishing rod, my husband played catch with Lydia and Elvis, and I chased Henry across the grass. And after the kids fell asleep that night, Brandon poured me a glass of American Honey. We unfolded our “love seat” lawn chair, a navy blue two-seater, and sat around the campfire drinking and talking with my parents and Bill and Rachel, keeping an ear turned toward our camper in case anyone stirred. Brandon brought out his guitar and started strumming. We had another round and stood while Brandon played John Mellencamp songs. Mom and I danced and sang along, “Little ditty, ‘bout Jack and Diane, two American kids doin’ the best they can,” without a care about being out of tune, laughed and swayed, “I love this song!” and “This is so great!” raising our hands and faces to the cloud-covered sky, all of us singing and drinking and warming ourselves by the fire, and me, grinning like I just caught my first sunfish by the water.


I tossed my phone in the console cup holder, the battery at 10% after all of my attempts to refresh and find service, radar, weather alerts, Facebook updates, hope composed in no orange, yellow, and green splotches splattered on maps. I sighed.

“Okay, here’s what I think we do,” Brandon said, “There’s a McDonald’s on the other side of the highway, and they usually have free wi-fi. Let’s go and grab a snack—ice cream, kids?—”


“—and see what happens,” for this last part, our eyes met, doubtful about the storm clouds in the distance, the missing rays of sun.

As the kids licked their ice cream cones and climbed around and over the sticky yellow and red plastic chairs, the torrent calmed to a gentle drizzle that gave way to the occasional ripple on a dip in an asphalt puddle and then only clouds heavy with the threat of rain, no more lightning, the potential for rain gray but, yes, I think it’s lightening, brightening a bit, don’t you think?

We checked in to Camp Sandusky and rolled down the mud and limestone drive of the campground.

“Look! There’s the pool! And there’s the playground! It looks like a castle!” the kids said, clawing at the windows, pointing at the slouching slides, rusting chain-link ladder, the rotting boards and chipping paint, the faded Little Tikes play sets. All I saw were puddles and mud, puddles and mud. Brandon chuckled under his breath, snickering as I slouched and sighed in the passenger seat.  The campground was deserted except for a car or two and a thirty-foot motorhome. We pulled to a stop in front of our very own 10×10 shed.

“Wow! I can’t believe we get to stay in a real cabin!” Lydia said, springing from the back seat and sprinting to the small deck the size of a wood pallet. The cabin had two electric outlets and a bare bulb light fixture attached to the wall, a set of bunk beds, a thin double mattress on a wood frame, and enough space for Henry’s pack ‘n’ play, a floor fan, and our duffle bags of clothes. Behind the cabin, semis and cars and trucks and trailers roared, muted by a small stand of wild grasses and sumac.

“I get the top bunk!” Lydia announced and proceeded to roll out her Disney Princess sleeping bag while Elvis spread his Pixar Cars sleeping bag. Henry crawled around on our bed giggling and fleeing from me. Brandon grabbed his hammer and started pounding at the nails that protruded from our porch.

We spent the afternoon in the pool, Lydia gleefully tall enough to touch in the shallow end, Elvis clinging as one tense muscle—comic bundle of nerves giggling and shrieking in terror—to my side, and Henry, just turned two, attempting with every ounce of energy in him to detach from his parents’ grasp and swim away. Except he couldn’t swim. None of them could swim, not yet, not with any confidence or control, not without inadequate, frantic kicks and gulps of chlorinated water, gagging.

After Brandon and I couldn’t handle anymore “swimming,” we wandered back to the cabin, chasing Henry away from mud puddles. Dinnertime was approaching. The natives grew restless. They played UNO while we unloaded the firewood and unpacked food. I worried a little about starting a fire—I mean, I know how to start a fire and all, but this was traditionally my dad’s role.  With some fancy footwork and balancing skills, I leaned each piece of wood in a pyramid and jammed a few wads of paper underneath, and it crackled to life. We pulled our patio chairs around the fire and cooked Italian sausages. “Don’t get too close!” we scolded. After dinner, we roasted the obligatory marshmallows, some burnt and charred, some toasted golden, then sat entranced and watched the fire, reading Shel Silverstein poems—Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me, Too, all set off in a flying shoe—before we escorted them off to bed, where they snuggled and giggled.

And then, finally, all was quiet in the cabin/shed ten feet away from our picnic table. The children slept. What now, I thought to myself, antsy for something to do, something to fill the space. All of those weekend camping trips of my youth ended with us kids in bed, our parents still sitting around the campfire. What did they talk about? What did they do in those quiet moments, after Mom cleaned up the pans and paper plates from dinner, after Dad worked in the summer heat on an excavator all day and then plowed and seeded the family corn fields in the evening, finally rolling into the campground as the sun began to set? All this time I had focused on what it meant to camp with my kids, and then it was just us. Just us. Two American kids doin’ the best they can.

It seemed as if Brandon and I hadn’t had this much time alone in months, which was mostly true—our lives had been chaotic, his travel for work more than anticipated. We talked via Skype and phone and text and occasionally in person, about babysitters and dinners, departures and arrivals, work schedules and conflicts in travel. But that season was finally over, it was summer, a brief respite before the fall football season began again. Brandon and I broke out the Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka and some ice and sat down across from each other at the picnic table.

“Want to play cards?” I asked.

“Sure, what do you want to play?”

“Let’s play rummy.” I shuffled the deck a few times and dealt. “This stuff is trouble,” I said, sipping the tea, “It tastes just like sweet tea, not at all like alcohol.”

I turned on my phone and played some music over Pandora. Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash sang my favorite karaoke song (“Jackson”), “We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout,” and John Hiatt chimed in, “Lying underneath the stars right next to you, wondering who you are, and how do you do? (How do you do baby?), when the clouds roll in across the moon, and the wind howls out your name and it feels like rain,” and then Blake Shelton promised, “You be my honeysuckle, I’ll be your honey bee,” and we sang along to the songs we loved, songs that have played into our story for the last decade.

“I play a lotta cards, obviously,” we said, quoting That Thing You Do, “You gotta be quick with me; I’m from Erie, PA.” We played a lotta cards and poured some more, played some more cards and drank and drank. Brandon grabbed a bag of Tostitos and a jar of salsa to snack on, and we ate through the bag. We played to 500. I scored the highest round we’d ever seen in rummy but after a few hands, Brandon caught me and then won. When it got too dark to see the cards without squinting, we stacked the deck and crept over to the fire pit, its blaze dwindling since we roasted marshmallows with the kids a couple hours earlier. I put the last of our firewood into the ring and snuggled in next to my husband on our love seat – that double foldout chair we had traveled with to backyard barbecues and baseball games for the last decade.

In the time we’d had the chair it was rare for us both to settle in it together. We sat in it together to watch fireworks in our friends’ backyard each Fourth of July. We sat in it together briefly at family picnics balancing plates of Barberton fried chicken and coleslaw on our laps, taking turns chasing toddlers around the yard or waiting for the other to respond to the bickering of our children. We sat in it last summer around the campfire with my parents. Mostly though, I brought it with me to watch him play double headers on Sundays in Akron, to afternoon ballgames he coached in Hartville while Lydia practiced taking her first steps between the families around the diamond, to Saturday morning soccer games optimistic the boys would let me sit, and to the t-ball field in Ashland as he helped to coach Lydia’s first team while Elvis climbed trees and Henry picked blades of grass. It has lasted a good long while now, the fabric still firm, the metal still sturdy, if rusting a little in places. After a long fall, winter, and spring of sitting in the chair alone, it felt good to fold into Brandon’s side. I sighed a contented sigh.

We watched the flames leap at the new wood and slowly burn down to red coals. The families and kids who had been at the amusement park all day drove up in a tour bus, a motorhome, a rusting SUV, and a parent’s Mercedes. I refilled my glass another countless time and stumbled back to Brandon. By then the bottle was empty. “Oh, would ya look at that?” I pouted and staggered.

The minutes of the night flitted by like fireflies; we reflected on the spring and dreamt about the future, confessed career goals and fears. Will this season ever end? Will we always be this busy? Is this what we will do forever? We never imagined being here, never imagined this life. We cycle through these narratives every six months or so, in the quiet and undistracted minutes alone. Our marriage is not just tag-team grocery shopping and babysitting, laundry washed and folded, dinners discussed and cooked and eaten; no, we are creators and dreamers, lovers and friends, ambitious and insecure, weathering the seasons together as best as we can.

The travel makes me nervous, the nights alone, our children’s childhoods passing in a flash. I love this life with him, this life we’ve built together. I don’t want either of us to miss it, to whisper our regrets in decades down the road. I want more than regret, more than solitary fishing memories, more than quiet nights around a fire sipping vodka, then slipping off to sleep, longing to be filled.

The embers glowed orange, the fire crackled and popped, and in the silence I turned my face toward Brandon. We kissed, hard, the sweet tea vodka potent. No sounds from our sleeping children drifted from the cabin/shed. I lifted off my side of the chair and sat across Brandon’s lap, engrossed and still passionately in love with this man, if not also a smidgen intoxicated, and we ran our hands through each other’s hair and over each other’s bodies. The family in the cabin a couple spaces down from us was forgotten, the kid who had asked to borrow a lighter for his fire was blaring some bad pop music hidden behind his parents’ car, the high school kids on a youth group trip were nestled in their cabins far away from us. Brandon lifted my shirt over my head, and somewhere in those moments we made a collective decision to move away from the fire, off of the chair so awkward with him pinned underneath me, my lower legs numb from sitting on him. We stumbled behind the cabin, grateful for the steady roar of semis behind us, the electric fan whirring on the other side of the cabin’s wall, the darkness to disguise the fun we had in the grass, (How do you do, baby?) fully absorbed in each other and lost in the delight of the night.

Afterward, I don’t remember slipping into the cabin with him or putting anything away on the picnic table, just waking up at three a.m. cold and naked. I thought the cabin would be stifling all night but the evening breeze had cooled the room. I pulled in close to Brandon underneath the one lousy sheet I brought for us and tried to generate warmth. We don’t snuggle. After making love at home we’re happy to roll to our respective corners of the bed and turn off the light, sigh, “That was awesome,” and say good night, the Great Wall of China that is his body pillow wedged between us.  But on that thin mattress with the cool night breeze blowing in through the windows and no clothes, we intertwined our limbs and hugged each other close, laughing and shivering and sleeping and waking. Around four a.m. I broke down and snuck out the door to find a shirt and the Indians blanket I’d used as a picnic tablecloth earlier. It was damp with dew. Screw it, I thought, quickly emptying the cards and cups onto the bench and lifting the wet blanket off the table. At least it would keep our body heat in. “Grab my jeans,” Brandon whispered, and I brought them in, too. With the weight of the blanket on us, we shivered and snickered.

“If the kids wake up before six, let’s get out of here,” Brandon said under the whir of the fan, “Screw the pancake breakfast. We’ll go to Panera.”

“Amen.” We curled into each other and slept lightly until 5:45 a.m.

“Mommy? Daddy?” Henry said from his pack ‘n’ play in the corner, and we brought him into our bed for a few more minutes until the older two awakened. They were only a little disappointed when we told them of our plans to pack up. Their enthusiasm spiked at promises of cinnamon crunch bagels and a stop at the McDonalds with the indoor playground.

“Did you guys have fun?” we asked. “What was your favorite part of the trip?”

“Sleeping in a real cabin!—Feeding the bison!—Swimming in the pool!—Playing catch with the football!—Roasting marshmallows by the fire!” the kids took turns shouting over each other and then quieted down again, looking out the window at the indoor waterparks and restaurants bordering the road.

“That was a lot of fun,” Brandon said glancing my way and then back toward the highway, “It’s always good, but it isn’t always fun. That,” he said, “that was fun.” I grinned and turned to face the road ahead. Yes, both good and fun. Good times. Fun times.