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This past weekend, my husband and older son were out of town, so I was flying solo with my six-year-old. It was forecast to be a cold start to the weekend, and as we headed out Saturday morning to his 8:30 soccer game, they weren’t kidding! It was 27 degrees. Brrr. Yep, it felt like the perfect day to hunker down and eat bad food and watch bad TV.

We arrived at the soccer fields and he ran off to do drills while I clutched my two cups of coffee and hoped they would stay warm for the next hour. I started dreaming about our lazy day ahead.  And then, you got to be kidding me! The sun is coming out? The sky is turning blue? How could I justify a day inside! We’d been cooped up from the exhausting heat all summer, and if we got a chance at a beautiful fall day, how could we waste it? We needed something fun to do. 


After the game, my poor frozen kid got into the car and slipped under a thick fleece blanket and said, "We’re not doing anything today, are we?" Hmm, do I break it to him now that it’s not going to be one of those days? Ah, heck, I’ll let him regroup and relax for a bit before I let him in on my plan. So, I gave a vague answer of, "We’ll see." (Of course, in my book, saying that almost always means the answer is no.)


By 10:30, I was done relaxing and regrouping.  It’s so infrequent that I get an entire day with only one kid, and it was time to be fun mom. "Hey, I think we’re going to go to the lake today." This was greeted with a growly, "You said we didn’t have to do anything!" "Nah, I don’t think I did.  Get your stuff—we’re going to the grocery. And, whatever you want for lunch today, it’s yours!" My optimism proved to be a pretty good motivator. 

Two hours and a couple of deli sandwiches later, we arrived at the cabin. It was cold inside, but outside in the glorious autumn sun, it was just warm enough.  As he plunked down on the floor to start playing Legos, I stopped him and said, "Let’s build a fire on the beach."  Yes, this was my big plan, and lame as it seems for a "big" plan, I got the response I wanted. His eyes grew big and he looked excited. 

And then he squinted and said, "But Dad’s not here. You don’t know how to build a fire." Say What?! I can do anything I want to do (it’s just that I usually leave some things up to my better half so that I can sit back and relax.) So I said, "Really, let’s go get some sticks and dig a hole in the beach." "You don’t know how to build a fire starting with a teepee, do you?" (Obviously, living with Boy Scouts, this little one had paid pretty close attention to the intricacies of building a good fire.) "Um, I do."

We spent the next hour searching for sticks of all sizes and filling up the back of our golf cart more than once.  We dug a hole in the beach, and put a ton of kindling at the bottom and eight larger sticks to make the teepee. And then I let him light it. Luckily, with the dry leaves at the bottom, the fire caught right away.  We continued to add sticks, and finally, we placed a few good-sized logs in the fire.

The loads we had gathered were rapidly disappearing—we needed to venture out and find more (and bigger) sticks. On the far side of the lake we found a giant pile of branches. "We’re never going to get these huge branches back to the cabin," my son lamented. I had a plan. 

Back at the cabin, I grabbed a bow saw. "You don’t know how to use a saw! You’re probably going to hurt yourself!"  Oh man, had I really let my husband do so much of this fun outdoor heavy lifting that my kid thought I was some helpless maiden? He saw me build that awesome fire! What part of him thought I couldn’t use a saw?

We added more sticks and logs to our fire and headed back to the big pile. And then the sawing extravaganza began. I sawed like a crazed banshee, loaded up the cart, and headed back. Then, we broke sticks, sawed sticks, and did everything we could to add more and more to our fire. It was officially huge!

The day was waning and the sun was dropping quickly behind the cabin. We’d spent over six hours outside building the biggest, baddest fire either one of us had ever seen. We grabbed two Adirondacks and placed them near the fire and sat back to admire the fruits of our labor.  After staring in silence for what seemed like a very long time, my son looked at me and said, "This has been one of the best days ever." My eyes welled up and my heart felt like it was about to jump out of my chest.  I looked at him and barely whispered, "I agree."  It had been a perfect day.

Mollie Protzman

Mollie Protzman


Mollie is an Omaha native and a mom of two boys ages 13 and 8. She's been married for 20 years and spent most of those first 10 years living in various cities around the country. Before kids, she was in marketing communications and public relations and then stayed home with her boys for 11 years while doing freelance writing on the side. The day after her youngest one went to kindergarten, she just about went berserk with the quiet in the house and nothing constructiv ...

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