Up North


If you need me, it might be a while. I’m on a two day retreat.

Cedar and I try to get away together, just us, every summer. It’s often to a cabin or B & B or anywhere, really. We’ve done all kinds of sweet easy getaways over the years: Duluth, Two Harbors, Stillwater, Lake Pepin and Chetek, Wisconsin.

There was the year that we were headed to Madeline Island to camp out in the woods. We had packed up everything in our backpacks in order to hike in and stay for a few nights: my little gas stove, our sleeping bags, all of the food we would eat and then some. Once we made it to our site to set up camp, we realized that someone hadn’t packed the tent poles (me).

So instead, as the sky grew dark, we found a tiny hotel on the beach with a king sized bed and clean white linens. We cooked our food in the sand outside and had a big bonfire, just the two of us, on the shore of Lake Superior. One night we walked to a nearby bar and danced on the deck to Dubstep. Every night we slept nine hours under a down comforter.

Now that’s a vacation. One of my best packing errors to date.

I think that sometimes being thorough is overrated.

This year, I have my mother picking up the packing slack for me, because it’s just the two of us traveling together in the great Northwoods. On the way up, I navigated us through the extra scenic route—we really avoided that rush hour, to the point where we found idyllic country backroads so remote that I don’t think they were classified as actual roads. It basically ended up adding an hour to our drive, a beautiful anti-short cut. Out the window, I saw faded falling down barns and Holsteins and as the drive wore on, the full moon.

We haven’t done a trip like this, just my mother and me, since we went to Colonial Williamsburg when I was eight. And I guess, in a way, we can thank E.’s medical clusterfuck for sending us traveling together again. Cedar and I weren’t able to be gone at the same time so soon after his stint in Eau Claire (and my mini one). But I needed to go.

I planned this trip because in July, I could hardly contain my complaining. About being up half the night, about the relentless task of coordinating E.’s care. Some days I resented being trapped by the enormity of her needs. Not usually resenting her, but resenting Cedar instead. One night, we sat up in bed, the worst place to argue in any house. I cried, “I have given up so much for this baby. Why am I the one who has to give up what I love? You get to do what you want.”

“You can go. Go do something, away from here.” Cedar rebuffed, flustered, sick of the same conversation over and over again.

I’m not proud of that whole argument, which mostly comes down to scorekeeping. I did this and you didn’t. I did it better than you, or more often or maybe I did it today and you did not. Some days it’s that you got to do it more than me.

Also, for the record, Cedar does not always get to do what he wants. We’ve both given up too much since we had E.

Giving up too much of ourselves in a weird, competitive self-sacrificing way, is what we call in our house the race to the bottom. Sometimes we play that game like a sport. Because we don’t know what else to do or we don’t have enough time to do it. Or we are afraid of what new crisis is going to come next and at least that’s one way to feel in control.

It’s not terrible, because those conversations turned into a plan. The plan is this: by being Up North and not being home, even for a few days, I am a little bit more free. And when I am more free, I can (and do) encourage Cedar to do the same. Freedom begets freedom.

The plan is to spend more time doing what I need to do and less time talking about it.

The plan is to take better care of myself.

Instead of complaining about not being free, I am with my mother in the woods. It smells like paradise here, like birch trees and bonfires and dew and earl grey tea. She remembered to bring along an extra vest, because she knew that it might be chilly at night and that I probably wouldn’t remember to bring much of anything at all.

I miss Cedar and I miss my babies. And that’s one of the best parts of being away. To have the luxury of missing them, while spending the day the way that I want to— finishing a Rainbow Rowell novel and walking as much as possible. Going out to dinner with no one crying right when the food is served or wanting to run/scoot/roll around the restaurant.

I’m staying up late writing near the fireplace, even though it’s summer. And I’m getting time to just be with my kind-hearted mother, who is a stellar traveling companion. She is right about almost everything, yet doesn’t flaunt it.

Maybe next time I’ll also pack like I’m taking care of myself. But for now, I made it out of town, and I didn’t even need to bring the diaper bag. Twice in one month.

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