Sunday, August 31, 2014

Saving Our Campsite, Labor-Day Weekend 2014

My husband and I took my daughter camping, her first time in the woods overnight. As with most new things, we prepared her in advance, for new things like sleeping in a tent, not having a bathroom or running water, being safe near a fire, and so on.  Our thinking is that the better we prep her for new things, the less fear she will have (and the less whining & dramatics we will have.) It’s a parenting tactic that we like and employ often, based on my own need for preparedness—I am more comfortable what I’m walking into.

As expected, S liked the dirt and collecting sticks for the fire. She was excited about the tent and sleeping on her mattress. She liked being outside. There was a moment that she paused to look at the stars, so bright and unlike home.  She liked making s’mores (she adorably calls them “snores”) and cooking in the fire. And as not expected, but silly on our part, S was the same in the woods as she was at home.

Her boredom came easily; she secretly packed the constant demands from home into her sleeping bag.  S was unchanged by the woods. Nature changes me. It makes me sit and look and breathe and be more still & more quiet. Maybe that’s because I am all of those things, and daily city life knocks that quiet right out of me. Maybe for me, the woods is a more natural environment than the city. I'm at ease in the middle of nature. Maybe it’s a maturity thing? To allow yourself to be transformed by beauty and nature, to receive all of the air, and light, and space.  S was not interested in transformation.

It’s one thing to give a kid nothing to “do” at home.  After her demands for TV or the iPad are denied and after a bit of crying and whining about not having her way, the kid finds something to do (usually something creative like building a castle out of paper, creating a fort from all the sheets & pillows in the house, making picnic lunches for all of her babies, or building a Lego kitchen to cook us breakfast—with plastic & wooden foods, of course.)  We let her, force her, to get bored and then, she magically finds something to do to relieve that boredom. Her instincts and creativity surface and she saves her own day from the ruin of tedium.

On the side of a hill, in a small camp site, surrounded by brush, thick foliage, and other people, on a crowded holiday weekend, we couldn’t just let her go to find something to do. There were too many dangers. After the initial excitement of dirt and outside and the tent, she was restless and demanding.  Before we had children, DD & I would read and nap and poke at the fire. We would hike for hours and just sit looking at the trees. The next time you are in the woods with your 3 year old, see how long you can get him/her to sit and look at trees. 10 minutes tops. That leaves the next 23 5/6 hours left of your day.  

Missing the comforts of home, had a all new meaning.

We could happily overlook not having walls or electricity. Peeing outside was not an issue. As a great, and wonderful, surprise, S did not once ask for tv or iPad during our camping stay. (I count that alone as a victory!) She was not missing toys or the tub, but the freedom to wander and self-soothe, the freedom to create, for herself, something to do. 

Here’s what we, the parents, did wrong (and have heartily learned for our next trip—learn from us.)  1.) We will do better research on the site itself. The campsite was very small (smallest site I’ve ever camped) and too closed in by the hill & thick brush. It didn’t have a wide-open-in-the-wilderness feel that we like. I would've felt better about S poking around in the woods if we could see her, but our site was carved into a nook in a hill surrounded by nettles. There was nowhere to roam.

2.) We will not camp on a holiday weekend.  It was overactive with constant reminders of people: people walking, driving up and down the gravel-paved hill, listening to music, laughing, hooting, it was a party until 1 am or so. For me, camping is about getting away from people and the trappings of civilization.  It’s tough for me to suspend my disbelief that we are living off the land when confronted with “Cherry Pie” and “War Pigs” from a neighboring camper’s truck’s radio at midnight.

3.) We will plan a rough schedule, not to overbook our time, but to structure and give S some things to look forward to, maybe as simple as morning hike, lunch, nap, afternoon swim.  Having no plans, made it tough to make decisions.  Again, preemptive research would have paid off here.

After our first failed (and sleepless) night at the noisy, crowded, party-like campsite, we went took a perfect country drive toward a pristine lake, rented a boat, tooled around and went for a swim. S was fearless in the lake water, jumping off the boat deck with full child-like glee (and a life vest, of course.) Her joy and love of water and swimming was a wholesome tonic for the long night we’d suffered at camp. We had an awesome lunch on the boat (grapes, cheese sandwiches, chips & baba ghanoush, ranch & veg), and napped.

My husband’s creativity, flexibility, and rare (awesome) impulsiveness led us away from the disappointments of the campsite and to the lake. His deep love of lakes & all things nautical, paid off. We were rescued from own exhaustion & tedium by fun, impulsive thinking and ended up having a better time than we could have imagined.  Maybe frustration, boredom, and exhaustion are also mothers of invention.

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