Letter to an Adventurous Stepdaughter
by Heidi Kyser
My sweet pea,
I was thinking about something that happened during our road trip to New Mexico. Remember the last night, on the way home, when we camped in the Kaibab National Forest? As your brother and I were unloading tents and sleeping bags, and your dad headed down to the pit toilet for a potty break, you asked, “Can I sleep in the car tonight?”
At first, I thought you were kidding. So did your brother, apparently: “Yeah, right!” he laughed. Typical.
But you just sat there—in the back passenger-side seat of our Ford Escape, the spot you’d occupied for the thousand or so miles we’d traveled—and continued reading your James Patterson novel as your brother and I surveyed the campsite for good tent spots.
I thought about it. Actually, if you slept in the car, it would make for better sleeping arrangements for the rest of us. Your brother could have the two-man tent by himself, and your dad and I could share the three-man. I remembered with envy how, earlier in our expedition, the boys had been able to stretch out and change their clothes in the spacious Kelty, while you and I were stuck in the cramped Tadpole. Designed for backpackers whose primary concern is bulk, the tiny two-man tent is hard enough to get into—forget about moving around once you’re in it.
Still, my first priority was your safety and comfort, so I tried to talk you out of it.
“You’re going to get cold,” I explained, “or be cramped.” “How are you going to position yourself? How will you stretch your legs—by themselves the length of the back seat?”
You insisted. “I want to do it. Please?”
So, OK. Your brother was happy; I was happy; you seemed happy.
Your dad came back from the bathroom puzzled to see his son setting up the Tadpole, instead of the tent the two of them had been sharing before. As I explained the situation, I observed your dad go through a thought process similar to my own.
“Whatever,” he concluded. “If that’s what she wants.
As the boys and I finished setting up the campsite, you just sat in the Escape and continued reading. I brooded off and on: “What if she gets cold?” I thought. I took your sleeping bag and put it on the floor next to you. “This is here if you need it.” And what good would a sleeping bag be if you got scared? I asked your dad to blow up the fourth air mattress, and put it on the floor of our tent, in the extra space next to him.
“In case she needs us,” I explained.
“She won’t make it to midnight,” he predicted.
I wasn’t so sure. This past year, I’ve seen you go through so many changes; not only surpassing me in height and becoming a young woman in physical appearance, but also emotionally more mature, wanting to spend more time with your friends, away from home, away from your dad and me.
I remember when you were nine-years-old and wanted to go to Egypt, live with your friend whose family had recently moved there and attend the international school with her. You protested through sobs as we said no, that you were too young to be so far away from us for so long.
Now, at nearly thirteen, you can see the day coming when that won’t be the case anymore. I know you look forward to complete independence, not because you don’t love us; simply because you’re drawn that way. Like me, you want to travel, see the world, meet as many interesting people as you can, learn their languages, try their food, experience their realities.
For now, though, there’s a bit of little girl left in you, and she’s sometimes still afraid of the dark. Before you turned in for the night, curling up in your backseat nest, I made sure to tell you, “If you get cold or scared or anything, come sleep in our tent. Bring your sleeping bag. We kept a spot for you.”
When I got in our tent, I could see that your dad had hung the key to the Escape from the center of the tent ceiling—at the ready, in case you needed him. “I told her to keep the doors locked,” he said.
I fell asleep easily that night, soon after we switched off our headlamps around 10 p.m. The spaciousness of the Kelty was, indeed, a welcome change. Nevertheless, I felt a twinge of relief when, around 2 a.m., I heard the zipper of our tent open and you whispering, “Dad … Dad?”
We let you sleep until almost 9 the next morning.
“What happened?” I asked your dad. He shrugged, “I think she got cold.”
Although a small incident in your big life, I’ve thought about this several times since it happened. I believe it’s symbolic of future situations we’ll encounter that could have more gravity than whether to sleep in the tent or the car.
You see, you’ll have ideas of things you want to do on your own. I’ll have reservations, although I may also feel conflicted by the additional freedom your independence gives me. Your safety and security will be paramount. Given that, I’ll help equip you in any way I can and encourage you to be adventurous. You deserve the chance to discover the best this life has to offer. I will sleep fine, knowing that I’ve done everything I can to help prepare you for the world.
But if that world ever gets cold or scary, there will always be a spot for you in my tent. You’ll be safe and warm there, surrounded by your dad’s and my love. As you begin to strike out on your adventures, please don’t forget that.