We’d been awake for less than fifteen minutes yesterday and it was already clear: There was no way we could spend the morning at home. After a fitful night of sleep I could see in Caroline’s eyes that she, like me, could not bear the thought of putting even a single slice of bread into the toaster. Before we’d even stepped out of our pajamas, the pitch and chaos of our house were approaching levels usually only reached just before dinner.
So we made a break for it and headed to Pinckney State Park, which we’d been meaning to visit ever since moving to Ann Arbor. While the boys tussled we assembled diapers, bottle, wipes, sunblock, sweaters, money, keys, phone. All of Jay’s underwear was in the washing machine so we made him go commando in blue jeans. For Wally, who’d never worn anything but slippers before that morning, we selected a pair of hard-soled sandals. Caroline strapped them to Wally’s feet. He stood in the driveway, perplexed at first. Then he leaned against the car, feet rooted to the ground, and whimpered.
As we drove west on 94 the family mood settled quickly, and indeed, nothing simplifies the board like strapping two kids into their car seats. I mentioned to Caroline that this morning was a good example of how it can be surprisingly useful to arrive in an untenable position- a situation so obviously and unsustainably unpleasant that you just have to do something to change it.
We stopped first for breakfast, at Zou Zou’s Cafe in Chelsea, a place we’d visited last fall. Not only did Jay recognize it, but he remembered we’d capped our previous visit with a cookie with rainbow sprinkles from the glass display case in front of the coffee bar. When he brought this up suggestively, Caroline explained that although it might seem like he’d perceived a pattern, the world is in fact more complicated than meets the eye, and eating a cookie does not follow necessarily from visiting Zou Zou’s. Moments later we went to order and were hit with another inexplicable turn: 9:30am on a Saturday morning and they were out of bagels.
We had breakfast wraps instead and then followed signs up M-52 to the park. The map at the trail head indicated that it was about a mile to an overlook above Crooked Lake. After months of seeing pictures on Facebook of friends’ camping trips, I was feeling especially eager for a good walk. We set off, Wally on my back, Jay beside Caroline. The trail wound through a new growth forest, rising and falling, and a few times we pressed to the side as mountain bikers barreled through. Wally, for lack of anything else to do, began to tickle my neck, and howled with delight as I scrunched my shoulders dramatically in response.
After twenty minutes of walking we still hadn’t reached the overlook and I started to feel nervous. Every step we walked up the trail was a step Jay would have to walk back and I began to worry that my enthusiasm for the hike was impelling our family towards ruin. At a water stop Caroline ventured tentatively that we’d already been walking for forty minutes. I acknowledged grudgingly that we should probably turn around and so we abandoned the overlook to another day.
On the way back Jay stopped short in front of me and we fell into a game where he was a horse and I was a horse driver. He’d say “This horse is tired” and I’d say “giddyup,” or offer to feed him some sweet oats out of my palm. When his pace continued to lag I picked up a short stick and explained that when the horse runs out of energy, the horse driver has to use a whip. Jay asked me what a whip was so I demonstrated by poking him in the back. He thought this was very funny, and for the next ten minutes we made good time as I prodded him up the trail. I realized, of course, that I was afflicting my son with a stick to make him walk, which didn’t seem quite right. But the stick came wrapped in a game that he’d prompted and, really, I couldn’t believe the utter genius of the situation we’d stumbled into.
And yet, it managed to get even better. Eventually Jay, who’s no fool, said that he was tired of being the horse and wanted to be the horse driver instead. He picked up a stick and jabbed it into my back. I jumped and gave a whoop and galloped up the trail, and Jay galloped right after me. “Oh no, this horse is too tired,” I’d say, and let him catch me, and then he’d poke me again and I’d start off running while he roared with fiendish delight and brandished his stick, all the way back to the car.