This is a family moment and we are not a family.

We are camping, the thought of which was frightening, but now I’m having so much fun that I’m no longer pissed at my husband for working and leaving the job of Fishing Trip to me. He always does this, leaves me holding the parenting bag. Usually when there is poop in it. He is a successful man, and that is his excuse to work at every opportune moment. But Danny, my best friend’s husband, not mine, is successful too.

“He’s a blue collar entrepreneur. Not the same.” Adam once said, when I’d told him I thought Danny was a great dad.

“They seem to have more than enough.”

“Not the same,” Adam said again.

Being with Danny wakes me up. Especially now that I am hugging my six year old, Eli, from behind and holding onto his hands which grasp a fishing pole that dangles a very large trout.

When Danny sees we have a big one, he wraps his warm arms over mine. It is an intimate embrace but for a purpose, I tell myself. Danny’s six year old son, Tanner, grabs onto Danny’s arm and jumps up and down like a kangaroo, scream-laughing, his large glasses bobbing on his nose. We need Danny’s arm to steady the pole but it’s difficult to squelch the enthusiasm of a boy, especially on a camping trip where a boy’s excitement is the point.

We finally land the hulking fish with a satisfying splat on the dirt beach. The boys fling their bodies in a wild, six-year-old dance, high five-ing and skipping. We are filthy and out of breath and all four exhilarated.
 

 

It’s been a long time since I’ve done something new. This is better than roller-skating, better than my first car, better than any sex I’ve had in the past 10 years.

I look into Danny’s craggy face. We share a laugh.

Guilt makes me shiver. I’m almost flirting, but I won’t. We are both loyal to his wife, and I’m not looking for a catastrophic cliché.
 

 

“You go!” my best friend, Helene had said when she witnessed Adam flake again. Four weeks prior he’d planned a fishing trip with Eli.

“Will Mommy go too?” Eli had asked.

“Mommy hates camping,” Adam told him.

“We’re gonna leave Mommy?” Eli’d asked.

“It’s a boy’s trip,” Adam explained. “Just you and me.”

Eli shrugged but I saw the joy spread across his face. He jump-hugged his father, and I smiled at my husband for the first time in weeks.

We were in Helene and Danny’s back yard for Sunday Swim when I heard Eli bragging, “Mommy’s not even going, cause it’s just us. Just me and Dad and fishing and camping in a tent and sleeping outside and making fire and no girls and no baths….”

Adam looked into his trough of scotch, not nearly enough remorse on his face. He chose that moment, among friends where I wouldn’t make a scene and Eli might not cry. “About that, buddy….” He reached back to ruffle Eli’s hair. “We can’t go this week.”

Everyone stopped and looked at Adam. Eli’s mouth hung open.

“Honey,” I said, “you can’t just cancel.”

“Got a meeting.” He tossed the last of his drink into his throat and headed for the kitchen.

Eli began to cry. Helene’s eyes went wide and mercifully she didn’t hug me. I looked to her for an answer. She had none. Tanner had his arms around my son in a loyal embrace.

“Hey Tanner, want to go camping with Eli this weekend?” Danny said.

“I’m not going,” Eli said into Tanner’s shirt. “My dad can’t go.”

“We’ll go without him,” Danny said, wiping a BBQ sauce covered spatula on his apron.

It took a few minutes and Eli warmed to the idea. “I’ll go if my mom goes. If Mom goes it’s good.”

“I’ll go, of course I’ll go. Me and Tanner’s mom.” I slapped my recruit on the back.

“You’ll go, Mom?” Tanner asked Helene.

“I have Grandma,” Helene said, “but it looks like you have a whole crew.” Helene loves her family but never gives up a chance to be alone. I wondered how much Grandma really needed her. Also, she didn’t seem to worry about sending me off with her man.
 

 

Last year I was fretting that Adam might be having an affair. When I’d whined to Helene she said, “Worrying about your husband having an affair is like holding a colicky baby and worrying about kidnappers. Really, who’d want ‘em?”

I’d laughed then and given up on my paranoia.

“You’d never catch him anyway,” Helene had said. “Men are wily.”

Danny was offering to take them alone, but I knew it was too much. Helene had shared with me that Tanner still wets the bed at night.

“Danny says it’s a phase, but I think Tanner is doing it on purpose. Danny always lies down with him after,” Helene complained.

“Danny could be right,” I told her, trying not to be condescending. We are long over competitive parenting. That was for the beginning when we all had postpartum so bad and we didn’t know what else to do.

“Let’s just support each other and call it a day,” she’d told me once after I’d tongue clucked at her for giving Tanner whipped cream for breakfast. “He hasn’t eaten in three days. At least there’s protein in it.”

I felt ashamed of myself then and instantly I loved her. I would have thrown my arms around her but I still wasn’t sure she wouldn’t gossip about me to others in our group—the ones that breastfed for three years and never got a babysitter or a pedicure.

Helene moved to friend status after that. My depression waned, then disappeared. Her mutiny was my salvation.

We are now those moms. We feed our kids organic vegetables, we praise responsibly, and we got tattoos together while our three year olds sat side by side watching iPads in their strollers. Her ink is a fairy-tale prince’s sword slashed across her hip, mine a colorful hummingbird above my ankle.

“I’m not showing my ass to anyone who doesn’t need to see it,” I told her as she dropped-trow for the hunky tattoo artist.

“Coward,” she’d directed at me but smiled to him.

Shameless. She is the best friend you always wanted in high school. Reckless with common sense.

“Go,” she’d practically yelled at me. “Maybe they won’t come home so smelly this time.”

That’s my girl. She trusts me completely with her mensch-of-a-husband and I won’t take advantage of that. No matter how he looks in his faded flannel, with his stocky bodyguard frame, and his straight white teeth gleaming at our boys.

“Can we sleep in your tent, Linda?” Tanner asks, with his birdlike fingers on my wrist. His gorgeous blue eyes shine behind Mr. Peabody spectacles. What is it about the request of this six year old, my best girl’s boy, that breaks my heart every time? I am able to deny my own child almost anything if it means I might not sleep. The thought of being woken up to a soggy sleeping bag and the waft of ammonia flashes in my mind when I start to say yes.

“That would be ok, I gue…” I begin.

“Linda’s a girl!” Danny looks at his son incredulously, with palms opened. He points to his tent. “Boys room.” Then he points to mine. “Girls room. You guys are with me.”

Saved by male bonding.

“I want to sleep with my Mom,” Eli tells his shoes more than Danny. Then he looks at Tanner. “Sorry. I want to sleep with my Mom.”

The disappointment on Tanner’s face is just a flash. I am sorry for this but secretly thrilled that my baby still needs me. I know one day he won’t let me kiss him in public. He will snub me at the mall or in the school parking lot. Our mutual devotion has an expiration date.

Tonight when I crawl into my sleeping bag, my child will lay his head on my heart and crack it open a bit more. We will fall together into a deep, delicious sleep. Eli is better than Trazapan.

“Suit yourself.” Danny warmly cuffs Eli’s hair. “You and me buddy,” he says to his boy, and I wish Tanner would smile.

It was the fastest I’ve ever seen Eli go down. He was talking up until the last minute.

“Daddy won’t believe it when we show him the pictures. Maybe we shouldn’t have eaten it. Do you think he will see how big it really was? You didn’t text it, right? I want to see his face. Do you think he’ll believe it?”

Daddy won’t give a shit unless there’s a flow chart attached to it’s tail, I don’t say. “He’ll be so excited about your fish,” I do say. The only lies I tell him are about Santa, the Tooth-fairy and Daddy. As soon as he is kissed, he is asleep.

“Drink?” Danny pokes his head into our tent and whispers like a librarian. He was clearly a boy scout, the fire is small and hot. I sit cross-legged. Danny extends his and leans back on his elbows. We both look up and take in thousands of stars. The woodsy, wet smell and his warm smile are intoxicating enough.

“I don’t drink when I’m alone with him,” I say.

“You aren’t alone. You’re with me. What are you afraid of?”

“Just one.” I laugh.

Danny pulls a bottle of tequila from his pack and grabs our reusable Solo cups.

“Not so much, buddy,” I joke when he fills half my cup.

“I’m heavy handed,” he smiles, pouring a lot less into his own plastic bucket.

“Hey!” I grab his cup and shake it.

“I gotta be up for him when he goes,” he says.

“Hmmmm.” I hand it back and begin to sip. “Tastes like the Pike house at State.”

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