It was a very different thing to be a mother, Nancy thought to herself as she listened to her children galumphing down the stairs. “I’m ready, mother!” “Can we scale Pike’s Peak now, mother?”
Nancy laughed as she handed little Bobby his coat and held out a small knapsack with sandwiches to her daughter. Kneeling down to properly button up her son’s coat, she imagined she could hear either Peggy or her own mother’s voice teasing her for finally having to be the responsible one thinking of coats and sandwiches.
“Alright, my rascals, let’s go.”
The family of three made their way to one of the large hills just outside of town and trekked up the worn path. Five-year-old Kate continually darted here and there to examine bits of flora or fauna that caught her eye, occasionally bringing back interesting leaves or stones to show her mother or simply slipping them into her knapsack. John always swore fondly that Kate’s boisterous nature was inherited from her mother, but Nancy sometimes thought that Kate’s inquisitiveness might follow her Uncle Dick’s scientific inclinations instead.
Little Bobby, in the meanwhile, quickly became tired as toddlers are wont to do and demanded to be carried for the remainder of the journey. Shuffling around her own knapsack, Nancy lifted her son onto her shoulders where he shrieked with delight at his increased vantage point.
When they reached the summit, Nancy led her expedition – Bobby still mostly on her shoulders – all around the various trees and rocks, describing them as exotic landmarks of the American West and pointing down to the supposed views of Colorado spread out below them. Kate joined in, contradictorily designating both snowdrifts (heather, which they waded through) and a cactus (a dead tree, which they avoided).
Eventually, the littlest explorer demanded his dinner and Nancy unpacked the bottles of lemonade and other foodstuffs from her knapsack and retrieved the sandwiches, now slightly squashed, from Kate’s bag. Really, picnic dinners were always much more impressive when Susan or Peggy were involved, as neither she nor John had much inclination or skill towards cooking. But John was still out at sea right now, so she’d had to slap the sandwiches together quickly while keeping half an ear out for suspicious shrieks or crashes from other parts of the house.
Dinner was finished with a piece of chocolate shared between them, after which Bobby curled up in the grass for an afternoon nap. This tied Nancy into standing watch nearby while Kate roamed back out to continue her nature examinations. If her children were but a little older, Nancy might show them sword-fighting with sticks or any number of other fun activities, but alas as they grew older, they would also grow more independent. One day the children would not want their mother or father leading their expedition, they would want to go out on adventures by themselves or with their friends or cousins. Then Pike’s Peak might become part of the Himalayas or a volcano on Mars or any other fantastic imagining – and Nancy and John would be relegated to friendly natives (or Martians).
As a child, Nancy and Peggy had always heard stories of her mother and Uncle Jim playing on the lake and in the fells, but there was always a certain bit of unreality to imagining grownups during their younger years. She had never wondered, for example, if her mother would have liked to have camped on Wildcat Island with them and Uncle Jim that first summer of the Amazon. Or was she like Susan, who vastly preferred to sleep indoors at Mrs. Jackson’s now that she was grown?
Last summer, Nancy and John had set up tents on the Beckfoot lawn, since they could not trust the children to not drown themselves if they stayed on the island but any camping was still superior to sleeping in the house. Peggy, at least, had the excuse of pregnancy to explain her preference for a real mattress. Susan, on the other hand, chose to stay indoors and go fully native while her two eldest children camped outside with their Aunt Titty and Uncle Dick. (Dorothy and Roger had each been unable to come up to the lake and were severely missed by the children, since, being the only two aunts or uncles still unmarried, each was always happy to indulge in a story or some mischief, respectively.) Regardless of sleeping arrangements, all the grownups still took turns sailing the Amazon and the Swallow up and down the lake, picnicking at Wildcat Island, (and making sure the children didn’t fall in the lake).
Someday, however, the group of cousins would be old enough to stay on the island by themselves and wouldn’t want their parents and aunts and uncles hovering around and trying to join in their games. Maybe when that day came, Nancy and John should send the children off to their grandmother’s alone while the two of them travelled the world as they used to after the War and before Kate was born. She had never actually scaled Pike’s Peak for example…
A pained yelp awoke her from her musings and Bobby from his nap. Nancy stood up to see Kate hobbling towards her with a skinned knee and a thin line of blood trickling down her leg. “Mother, have you got any iodine?” Nancy rummaged through her knapsack. Yes, Peggy was surely laughing at her, but she had a new crew now, and motherhood sometimes meant being captain and mate both. Soon enough she might have to retire her captaincy for the next generation – but not too soon.