My son Ryan and I recently lost his father, my husband Frank. We were together for almost 20 years and the three of us shared a remarkably close relationship.
As the newly single parent of a teenage boy, I wanted to plan fun, memorable summer activities that provided some much needed, if forced, togetherness. So when Valley temperatures climbed to 112, I booked a cabin for one night at Christopher Creek in the Tonto National Forest.
My son’s reaction was ambivalent. I tried to sweeten the deal by telling him he could invite a pal along, but after some pondering he decided on “Just you and me, Mom.” I was as thrilled as I was surprised.
When the day came, we headed north. With my beautiful boy in the seat next to me, I was giddy with excitement and anticipation for our mountain journey. The car was packed with enough supplies for a week.
As soon as we arrived at the lodge, Ryan climbed into his bunk and turned on the TV. “Is there Wi- Fi?” he called out.
Oh no, I thought, even in the woods I’m going to be undermined by electronics. We did not drive all this way to watch TV, and with poor reception at that.
“Let’s go to the creek,” I suggested—shouted, actually. Those earphones are impressively soundproof; a bear could maul me in the cabin and my screams would be well muffled.
Ryan wasn’t sure what we were going to do in the creek (or for that matter what a creek was, exactly), but for my sake he managed to feign interest. Our first foray into the water was not exactly successful. Ryan, who takes after his dad in a lack of appreciation for bugs, was somewhat out of his comfort zone and opted to go back to the cabin to rest. So I ventured out on my own.
As I strolled along in the cool shade of the ponderosa pines, I was reminded of my own idyllic childhood growing up in northern New Jersey. Our property abutted hundreds of acres of wooded mountains spotted with streams and ponds. It was perfect for endless hours of unplugged, unfettered play. I began to strategize how to get my 21st century kid to embrace nature—bugs and all.
Almost an hour later, my speech rehearsed, I returned to the cabin to find Ryan’s shoes, wet and muddy, by the door. He jumped from the bunk, tossed off his earphones and said, “Come on, I’m taking you to the creek.” Apparently he had done some exploring on his own.
With astonishment and a quick self-talk to quiet my inner control freak, I dutifully followed. We spent the next few hours in the creek. Son leading mother, we stretched from boulder to boulder, waded through crisp clear water, teetered on century-old logs, marveled at the incredible colors of the birds, kept a watchful eye for any threatening wildlife and wondered which rocks had been placed by raging waters from upstream. Ryan expertly guided me, warning me of unstable footing, grabbing my hand to keep me from slipping, reassuring me that I could bridge the gaps. All the while, we talked, our conversation both random and meaningful.
Door to door we were gone only 24 hours. With memories and minor scrapes as souvenirs, we decided that Frank would have been proud of us. We sat down and began to plan our next adventure—together.