My boy is dragging his feet along the ground kicking up clouds of dust. His sister is making exaggerated coughing noises.
This hike is taking forever.
We come to the part of the trail blocked by a fallen tree.
I almost cry in exhaustion. There is no way I can climb over. My hip hurts.
I take the long way around, leaving the monsters to climb it without me.
Alone, I try to appreciate the beauty of the trail. I love the green trees, but I mostly see dead wildflowers, brown grass and sharp weeds. It is a million degrees out, and the air smells of fire. A few quail scurry out and I jump. Why did I read about how bad rattlesnakes are this season? Please don’t let me see one.
My mind starts doing what it does best, making lists and pointing out mistakes. I need to do dishes, laundry, clean the guinea pig cage, run to the grocery store and vacuum. Kids need new shoes. I should stop eating sugar. I need to start packing for camping. I think my mom is mad at me.
“Do you need help?” I hear my boy say.
“I don’t want to tear my dress,” comes the reply.
Of course they are going to start fighting. I stop and peek through the trees at them, annoyed and angry. I lecture them in my head. Do not make me hike back to help you both. It is far too hot and I’m in no mood. I’m serious. Figure it out.
My boy is dressed in white skinny jeans, wand shoved down the back, wearing my brother’s old ratty brown sweatshirt. It almost fits him now. His fedora is slipping off his head as he attempts to lift his sister onto the tree. It is not working.
My girl, all legs, is flaying about in a fit of giggles. She is wearing a fancy overpriced dress her grandmother bought for her birthday, ruffled socks and her nicest shoes. Dressed for a morning hike in the woods. Her matted hair is covering her face.
Soon the laughter is replaced with frustrated sighs and grunts. I start walking back toward them, watching them through the trees, rehearsing all the threats and punishments I’m about to unleash on them. It is so hot I swear my sweat is turning to steam.
I watch as they start whispering, heads close. My boy bends down, folds his hands together in front of him and holds them out to his sister. She steps on and lets him push her upwards. Careful to not tear her dress on the sharp bark, she climbs over the top. He climbs up next to her.
Reaching out, he takes his sister’s hand and they interlace fingers.
They stand for a moment, brother and sister, hand in hand, looking at the trail ahead.
I’m always braced for conflict, but never the tender moments.
I take in every detail. My girl is almost as tall as her brother now. She tilts her head toward him, nuzzling his shoulder. Their fingers stay connected, strong and tight. They both look ahead in silence. My boy adjusts his hat with his other hand and then turns to smile at this sister. They let their hands drop and he pushes her away with both hands.
“Don’t make me fall,” she screams at him.
He laughs and jumps down landing hard. She follows. I hurry to catch up with them.
“That’s my wand!” my girl yells with hands on her hips. “I found it first!”
“You dropped it and it is not a wand,” my boy says launching at his sister. “It’s my sword!”
He pokes it at her and takes off running. She looks around for a new stick, finds one and is off. I can hear them both laughing. I follow.