Recently we did a group camp with some other parents from around the Salem area. This was a great opportunity for me, because while tent camping doesn’t worry me per se — much — the truth is I still don’t have all that much experience with it, and I’m always worried I’ll forget something crucial. Like matches (which I once forgot). And small children are not exactly stoic in the face of deprivation. Having other people around just feels like a good safety net.
Plus it gives the boys other kids to play with. There were three other kids in their age range (the rest were toddlers), and just like the Back-To-School campout last year, the boys would disappear for hours at a time with them. In fact I suspect that the entire trip, from their perspective, was a long saga of outdoor play, punctuated occasionally by turns on the swing (one of the fathers is a professional arborist, and hung an awesome swing from a 25-foot-high branch) and pesky needs to eat.
For me things were slightly more complicated. There was the tent, which wasn’t too much trouble, although I suspect I was the only person there who had to actually look at the directions when setting up my tent. (One of the other parents saw me doing that and promptly volunteered to help.) There was the food, which I kept simple by letting us eat mostly hot dogs and nutella. (One of the other parents noticed this and spotted me some extra BBQ chicken and corn-on-the-cob.)
And there was keeping track of the baby. The one hitch in the trip came just an hour after we’d arrived. The tent was set up, Nathan and Mica were hanging out in it, and I told Nathan I would get some more things from the car (thirty feet and six tents away). The trouble is that I didn’t explicitly tell him he was in charge of Mica, and I took a little longer than I expected… and when I got back, probably seven minutes later, she was gone. Entirely gone. I scanned the visible campground — nothing.
Naturally I started going up to other campers, asking them, in a totally not-panicking way, whether they’d seen a red-headed baby wandering around. And one of them had. It turned out she’d gone out of the campground, turned onto the (fortunately little-used) road next to it, crossed a bridge and was heading off to find her fortune, a water bottle in one hand and a graham cracker in the other.
So it was fine, and the experience only took a few years off my life, and reminded me that 1) no matter how capable and helpful Nathan is (and he really is), he’s still only eight, and 2) Holy Moses but that girl is quick.
But otherwise we had a great time. There was a creek flanking the campground, cold and shallow and ideal for splashing around in — which was great, because the temperatures midday were sweltering. The older kids would wander off just far enough to be pseudo-unsupervised but still within earshot, while the parents hung out, cooled our feet, and chatted. Mica, displaying a typical lack of fear, wanted to plunge straight into the creek and explore all its interesting features, especially the little waterfalls, which I helped her with until my feet got numb. (“It’s great that she’s so exploratory,” one of the other parents, whose daughter is considerably more cautious, said to me. “Yes, if we can just get her to survive to adulthood, she’ll be a really interesting person,” I answered.)
And I am almost — not quite, mind you — ready to consider the concept of taking the kids camping solo. Maybe in a year or two, when Mica’s concept of boundaries are more evolved…