It’s been a long time since I was invited to a backyard campout. My children are old enough to get in the car and go to a campground with friends when they feel like it. Or, to take a climb into the wilderness and do some serious backpacking without me. So when my youngest, the only one left at home full-time, pitched a tent in the backyard and threw in a sleeping bag for me, I crawled right in.
It’s funny how a landscape you know so well changes at night. Lying in the dark, looking up at the stars, the world is a very different place.
Suddenly, ordinary neighborhood sounds become foreign and exotic. The dogs, stretching and shuffling in their sleep in the grass beside us. The whispery footsteps of the cats as they prowl in the shadows, sniffing around the tent, chasing bugs in the hedgerow. The Amtrak train pulling into the downtown station, as it does in the wee hours of every morning, sounded closer. The hollow sound of cars on the road and solitary footsteps on the sidewalk in the darkness.
My daughter and I lay there, side by side, snuggled into sleeping bags and cocooned in the narrow tent. The clouds scudded across the moon. We watched satellites track and airplanes blink as they passed.
Occasionally, one of us would point to the place where a shooting star had just streaked, already a memory. And we talked.
Just days away from her 15th birthday, she has a lot on her mind. One year of high school behind her, three more ahead. She’s beginning to think about college and leaving home. I’m starting to think about a life with no more children in the house.
Darkness is a good cover for things you need to talk about but just don’t get around to, or can’t find the courage to tackle when the sun is shining. Words whispered on pillows, indoors or out, carry great power. I lay there, listening, offering advice when I had it and comfort when I could.
As we talked, thinking about all we were both leaving unsaid, I realized once again that growing up, like growing old, takes guts. Neither is easy to do. Either way there’s a lot to think about. And, in the right place, at the right time, with the right person, a lot to talk about, too.
There were longer silences between us until finally, I heard the slow, deep breathing that told me she was asleep.
I lay there, dozing, lost in my own thoughts, until the birds announced the coming sunrise.
At daybreak I crawled out of the tent and she followed a bit later. The thread of conversation was put away, like yarn wrapped around knitting needles, to be pulled out again on another night starry night.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be
heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the
author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org