The Lady is trying to ignore the stirring of both of our young children, ages 3 and a half and nearly 2, as 7am creeps through the space between the drawn curtains of our Volkswagen Bus.
The sun is rising, and equally inevitably, so will our own sons. Lady and Winter, the three year old, are nestled together in the top bunk, a bed which is revealed only when the fiberglass pop top is pushed up, making head room in the “kitchen” and currently the home of Winter’s restless morning legs.
Wylder, who will turn two next week, is tossing in his own bed. The back seat of the Bus typically acts as a couch during the day and can fold down into a full-sized bed at night, but we leave the couch up and the space behind it, with pillows lining the walls and back door, makes for a perfect crib.
I sleep on the couch, a love seat really, with my feet migrating throughout the night to rest on the adjacent countertop space or stuffed into the empty closet which holds all of the blankets currently in use.
As Winter makes his morning groans, and Wylder peeks over the back of the couch, so our day begins.
“Can I have a bobble, yes, no?” Wylder asks, his hair a pile of bed head and snots waterfalling from his nostrils to rest on his top lip. He licks them clean and asks again, “Bobble bobble, yes, no?”
“Yes,” I emerge from my own sleep earlier than I’d like, “you can have a bottle.” Before I can open the little 1.5 cubic foot fridge and retrieve the milk, Winter is hanging his head down from the top bunk, just next to his mama’s feet.
“Daddo, I want Jake.” It will be the first of his many requests, first thing in the morning. I finish making Wylder’s milk bottle and hand it to him, he dives back into his pillows and begins consuming it like a starving vampire drains a village maiden.
Winter’s requests continue. “Jake” refers to watching an episode of Jake and the Neverland Pirates on our scratched up, bent and dented iPad, the original version of that device which doesn’t likely have many days left in it, but still serves its lone purpose as a means of watching some TV on the road.
“I want milk in my milk cup,” Winter continues.
“How do you say it?” I correct him.
“Can I PLEEEEEEEEASE have milk in my milk cup?” It still sounds like a demand but I pick my battles, at least the word “please” was involved.
I put some milk in a sippy cup and hand it to him as I lower him from the top bunk. He helps me fold the couch down into a bed, and I turn on the show for the boys, the three of us smoothed together like the swirls in a loaf of rye bread. They argue immediately, Wylder wants to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Unfortunately, his older brother almost always wins. The benefits of being older, just as when they’re hitting each other or not sharing, Winter is held responsible. And so their entire lives will go, one with more privilege and responsibility, more blame taken as well, than his baby brother.
Winter’s remaining requests unfold. A stuffed dog, I procure it from the top bunk. Two specific toys, a red helicopter named Blade Ranger and a little bulldozer named Drip, both from the new Planes movie.
Every one has milk. Jake is on and Wylder gets lost in the animation. Winter has all of his security items. I allow my eyes a rest. Then someone kicks the other, and I jump into action to calm them down, separate them a bit, nearly impossible in the back of what essentially amounts to a mini-van.
A glorified mini-van of course.
This process repeats for an hour or two, until Lady, their mama, stirs from her sleep. She’s a good mom, and deserves to sleep in. But when 9 on the clock rolls around, I’m ready for coffee and I nudge her feet, hanging over the edge of the too short top bunk.
She rises happily, puts a pot of water on the stove and begins to bring it to a boil.
Twelve minutes later she’ll be fashioning yogurt and Cheerios into two bowls for the boys. I’ll be half a cigarette into my first cup of coffee.
Winter likes his banana or strawberries on the side, Wylder wants them mixed in. A few moments of peace exist while everyone downs half of their breakfast, the other half in their hair or scattered across and beneath the picnic table in a manner I’m fully aware does not meet the requirements posted by the park rangers to keep all food locked up.
This, as usual for us, is bear country, and food scraps left strewn about our campsite can’t be good for our odds of not waking up for a middle of the night pee outside only to be greeted by a black bear.
Still, we’ve never actually seen a bear at any of our hundreds of campsites, and the kids are eating quietly, so I don’t care much to correct them.
I’ll sneak another smoke, drink another cup of coffee, check Instagram, my email if it’s a workday. The Lady will ignore her own full cup, always wishing for a nearby Starbucks, rarely being obliged. In a few minutes they’ll be running with sticks or throwing rocks too near one another or Wylder will pull Winter’s hair and the day’s worth of mediating their fits and battles will begin.
I can make a single sip of coffee, that last one as I hear the beginnings of their screams, last an eternity, then pull myself back into reality and prepare for another day. Another wonderful day, living in our VW Bus.