The end of the tent

Fall is my favorite season, for various reasons.  There’s the excitement and bustle of returning to school, the beginning of football season, the changing of the leaves, and the return of milder weather.  (After a scorching summer like the one we’ve had here in Iowa, I am ready for mild temperatures!)  Normally I’d say that I’m excited to pick apples in my parents’ apple orchard in South Dakota, but I’m pretty sure the drought is going to guarantee zero apples for picking.  Oh well.  Maybe next year.

As I sit in front of my laptop and gaze out at the smattering of earlybird leaves that are beginning to fall (again, thank a lot, drought!), I notice a small Coleman tent sitting unobtrusively under a huge maple tree.

The tent.

Its color is faded on that one side facing the sun, and that’s because that tent has been there since June. I put it up as a favor to my two boys, ages 10 and 8. They have always enjoyed “camping” in the backyard every now and then and they’d always beg me to put it up.

This year, however, I thought it would be neat if we left the tent up all summer.

Why not?  It’s not a brand new tent, nor was it a very expensive one.  It has a rainfly to protect it, it’s a snap to set up, and I am not so attached to the grass in my yard that I’m going to cry if I have a little square patch of grass that dies.  That’s the nice thing about grass — it can regrow.

I remember the thrill of having a tent to crawl into — my own personal space where I could hide out from the world and pretend that I was on my own in the middle of the woods.  My house is not the palatial palace that I’d like it to be; therefore, I wanted a place for my boys to be able to call their own.

They wasted no time in making their own, either.  I slapped an eggcrate mattress down so they didn’t have to lie on the hard ground, and they chose the blankets and pillows that they’d keep out there.  Oodles of books, toys, booklights, and DVDs followed, and I gave them free use of a portable DVD player that was just sitting in my closet, collecting dust.  It was a modernized version of “roughing it,” of course, but my boys were more excited about having their own space.  They spent the first two weeks in there nearly every night aside from the nights that they stayed at their dad’s house.  Bedtime became something to look forward to, for a change.  They’d go into the tent about 8:30 and spend a couple hours reading books, giggling, playing with flashlights, or watching DVDs.  They’d usually konk out about 10:30, and I wouldn’t hassle them to get to bed, because it was summer and I knew they’d tire eventually.

When the sun hit the tent in the morning, they’d straggle in, a little groggy from lack of sleep but excited to do it all over again that night.  When friends came over, they’d show of their “house,” reminding kids to make sure their feet were clean before entering the tent, since they would be walking on their beds.  They took responsibility for the contents of the tent and cared about keeping it nice.  Perhaps in a way it made them understand why sometimes Mom gets so persnickety about the way her house looks.

Soon the earlybird falling leaves will become a steady rain as the maple tree sheds its summer coat, and the tent will have to be cleaned out, cleaned up, and put away until next summer.

And in June, I’m pretty sure that I’ll be getting out that tent and putting it back up for yet another summer of memories.  In twenty years, I hope my sons remember these summers, and I hope the memories make them smile.

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