But there is one exception to my indoors-activities-only mantra. A certain thing that is the very definition of outdoors: camping.
Growing up, our Dad took us on wonderful trips - to the Coast, to Sisters, to Olympic National Rain Forest, trips across the Country and to Canada, to name a few. Our mode of transportation was usually a big van with a tent tucked in back. The snapshot memories in my head are distant and blurry but I remember them as:
Circling the site round and round, finding the perfect spot to set up camp.
Stories by the fire, one after the other, as we watched the flames flicker towards the darkening sky, taking our words and giggles with them as they disappeared, into the stars that looked so different out there, a thousand sparks of white dotting the endless black universe. A thousand questions provoked as you stared up, up, up.
Sisters side by side, the flashlight our dim lamp, as we flicked our hand, card by card, onto the picnic table. Winning and losing War, Gin Rummy, I Doubt It.
Burnt marshmallows & rocks that dug into our elbows at night as we tried to sleep on camping mats until the wee hours of the morning.
Mosquitoes, wet clothes, and cold chicken noodle soup out of a can that tasted delicious.
* * *
I’m always waiting for those moments when I can stand on the other side, as a parent, and take in the view as Jackson introduces himself to the world as it offers itself to him. At points in his life, years from today, he will have a bank of memories, some of which will come on him like a tidal wave when he least expects it. But today, I do not know if he even holds a single memory inside him that will last til his fourth birthday or beyond. So I wonder: Which will be the memory that sticks? The one that he’ll look back to, and think, "that’s when my life began…". Of course, so much more had come before. But he won’t know it. He is almost three, and I wistfully tell myself that any day now will be the one that contains a ‘pause’ button. Will he tell me later, that he remembered trick or treating on Halloween? Or the 4th of July Fireworks display he gleefully danced to? Or the first time he sat in a big kid swing, flying toward the sky as he learned to pump his legs and pull the chains as he held on tight? Or the time he zipped the tent flap-door open and closed, over and over, on his first camping trip?
The timing of his first real memory is beyond my control But the stuff that memory is made of, I might have a hand in.
* * *
We decided on July 2nd that it might be fun to go camping for the holiday weekend. Procrastinators yet optimists that we are, we figured no reservation and no camping gear would not be major impediments. It's also been years since we last camped, but Brent and I pulled it together after completing a few pre-trip tasks such as: googling 'Oregon Coast Campgrounds' and comparing several side by side shots of fir trees to find the exact right location, securing the last space available for the 4th of July weekend, frantically fitting in two trips to the local sporting goods store for supplies.
We almost got sidetracked by a few arguments over brands, sizes, and prices on all the necessary equipment: We have to buy a Coleman tent. They are most superior! But this one is $15 less! The sleeping bag has to be warm enough for 30 degree weather. No, it just needs to be tsunami proof! That cooler is NOT large enough and is definitely the wrong shade of green, it needs to blend gently into the background of foliage so as not to shout it's presence to the forest!
I was going to give you the minute by minute play back of the entire trip, but then I figured: why invite more people to delete this website from their bookmark menus? Didn't the Farmer's Market post do enough damage? Instead, I will give a brief recap of our mini-camp-cation. So! Highlights! Here we go:
The Short Version for those of you who find reading about people’s vacations worse than clicking through 78 uploaded Facebook photos while simultaneously asking yourself “Why am I voluntarily viewing this entire album while sitting on my couch alone, muting the television so I can give the waterfall shots my full attention?”:
WE COOKED POTATOES FOR 2 HOURS OVER THE FIRE BUT THEY WERE NEVER DONE, WE SLEPT ON THE GROUND, THEN FACED A (POTENTIAL) BEAR ATTACK THAT ALMOST HAPPENED, THEN WE DROVE HOME!
Longer Version (minus the potato situation, because that was what it was):
I’ll say this: I am not one for sleeping on the ground. Therefore we brought an air mattress. Which apparently requires batteries. So that was an extra trip to the local grocery store 14 miles down the road, right before dark. But you can't really trick Nature. It's like, "Heck No! You may have cheated labor pains through excessive, recurring epidurals but you are going to feel every moment of sleeping outdoors!" On a positive note, I may have stumbled upon a new exercise fad; because after 8 hours of trying to balance three people on a 'shifting air' mattress every muscle in my body was d.o.n.e.
Until I saw a sign much like this one:
And then it was on. Truce over. Nature wants to maim, claw, injure, and kill my child. Just like the tsunami. Not cool. Not cool, nature. "Let's turn back, it's not safe! The Mother Bear is going to eat Jackson!" I tried to warn Brent, but he was way ahead of me on the trail, pretending he had never met me before and/or didn't hear me. I spent the remainder of the walk to the beach clapping my hands over my head while shouting "Here we are, we are here, no surprises, we are not surprising you Mother Bear, no need to protect your cubs, no danger here, we are kind Oregonian humans who do not carry weapons!" Fortunately my technique worked because we made it to the beach fine.
However, Jackson promptly fell into a massive hole in the sand filled with three feet of water and after a few to-be-expected hysterics on my part, we were ready to go. I finally got a pastry and our trip was complete.
Not quite the same experiences as the camping trips I remember growing up, but close enough. What always catches me off guard as a new parent is the continuing realization that our old (young) selves come visiting time and time again as we hover at the edge of our kids’ childhood. It’s not ours. But we get to witness it. A childhood that is fresh and new, and all its own, but stitched together with the thread of a life already lived. We get to take the best of what we had, and offer it to our children. One generation to the next, we build a bridge between our lives. Raising a child makes me want to step outside my front door, outside my comfort zone, dive head first back into the mystery and joy and mistakes of childhood. Take a picture of every moment, so he'll have his own snapshots.
Through no proactive searching of my own, what did I come home to when I opened up my Yahoo browser? A news article titled: Grizzly Bear Kills Yellowstone Hiker
When you’re right, you’re right. (That's my other mantra)