God has shown me several times that camping, while in theory, seems like a good idea, it is not the path I should follow. Yet, I persist, despite the fact that all previous camp outs have ended in torrential rain storms, broken down vehicles and on one unfortunate occasion, me sporting a visitor’s badge at the Jasper County jail.
Several months ago when the Cub Scout pack meeting discussed the summer camp out, my kids begged me to go. I gave it some thought, because I knew there was a very good chance my husband wouldn’t be able to get the time off. It’d be me, flying solo for the great family camp out. Not one to shy away from a challenge, I agreed.
The boys and I ventured out Sunday afternoon in a caravan to Scout Camp. I had been extraordinarily busy the past few days so packing had taken place that very morning. I felt fairly confident that I’d covered my bases and set off as the only mom on a dad-centric trip.
When we arrived I was already confused. There were tents already there, A-frame structures, I believe they are called, the same thing the military uses. I had brought our tent. We needed a larger space anyway, since the A frames only held 2 people and we were 4. Also the tents were in extremely close proximity to one another. Quite frankly, it appeared to be more of a shanty town than a campsite, but I wasn’t about to complain. I was still somewhat fresh from the drive. I wasn’t jaded yet.
Tabor acting as “caller” in a flag ceremony. It just looks hot, doesn’t it?
Nearby tents afforded us the opportunity to hear sneeze, snores and family squabbles of our fellow campers.
Getting the tent up on hilly, rocky terrain was vastly different than the test run we’d done in our flat grassy backyard. The den leader was heroically helpful, but we were not on the same page in terms of staking down the tent. Consequently, after the first attempt at raising the poles my tent looked like something out of a Tim Burton movie. Also, it was easily pushing 100 degrees, so Den Leader and I were nearly passing out, trying to manage curious children and putting up the tent. Finally we got the tent structurally sound and headed out for the many, many activities that were already happening that day.
First off was the swim test. Our 5 year old is part fish so he impressively swam the distance in one breath.
“Mom, where are my ear plugs?” asked oldest son who’s had 8 ear surgeries.
“They are in your backpack,” I said
“No they’re not.”
“Yes, they are.”
And so it went. Finally, I looked myself. No ear plugs.
“Uh, sorry, bud, looks like Mom was wrong. Let’s text Daddy.”
Daddy replied: Look in the backpack.
Swimming test was completed with Tabor keeping his head above water the entire time which gave the illusion he was struggling with some type of sea serpent to keep from drowning, but by golly he made it.
Next stop: fishing. We’d had fishing poles in our hands approximately 30 seconds before Ty got a fish hook stuck in his hand. Once safely removed and everyone had their lines in the water, it was approximately another 30 seconds before T.J. declared, “This is kinda boring. I want to catch a fish, but I don’t like standing here.”
I turned around to see Fish Hook Boy completely unraveling his fishing line.
That was fishing.
Dinner was complicated by the fact we are now gluten free. Somehow despite my phone call, the reminder when we checked in and mentioning it to our campsite leader when we arrived, our stuff did not arrive. I tossed the kids apples and waited until the chicken and green beans were declared safe and we proceeded to eat one of the top ten worst meals I’ve ever consumed.
Then it was off to the opening flag ceremony.
While fishing and swimming had been located in decent proximity to the campsite/shanty town, the main flagpole was located somewhere just west of Kansas. We walked and walked and walked and finally Ty sat down in the dirt and started to cry. I wanted to join him but out of fear of being trampled by the wave of campers behind us, I ambitiously scooped him up and plopped him on my shoulders.
“Woohoo, Mama! This is fun up here! I like riding on your shoulders, Mama!”
I made it about 50 yards before carrying the crushing weight of my 38 pound child uphill began to take its toll. I began frantically scanning the campgrounds
I would have given anything for a ride in one of these bad boys.
for a golf cart. Who the hell ever heard of a camp site without a Cushman on the premises? I searched and searched to no avail. No golf cart, just the sensation that the earth’s gravitational pull had tripled and I was walking in concrete shoes. Uphill.
We finally reached the opening flagpole ceremony which seemed to last approximately seven minutes complete with goofy skits put on by the teenage camp counselors then suddenly someone yelled, “Hey, kids, someone is stealing the ice cream!” A stampede of sweaty little boys took off at light speed down the very hill I had just summited, back to main office for the ice cream social. Two of my three children were swallowed by a sea of humanity. And, so as to not lose the third, I once again, scooped him up on my shoulders and tromped down the hill.
After eating a melted bowl of vanilla, we were invited to sit by the “campfire” which, thanks to the fire ban that’s now in its seventh year, is a pit of synthetic logs fueled by propane. We same more goofy songs about worms and pizza and aliens when the wind began to pick up and become surprisingly cool. Dutiful parents all around me reached into their backpacks and pulled out thoughtfully packed sweatshirts and jackets. T.J. looked at me in hope.
“Gosh, uh, it looks like mommy forgot to pack the jackets. Sorry, hon. We’ll go take a nice warm shower in a minute,” I promised. Feeling like loser mom of the year, I tousled his hair and watched as he pulled his arms into his shirtsleeves.
We watched a few more minutes of the program before I headed back to the campsite with the younger two. The tent was a wreck, but I knew exactly where to find the kids’ pajamas. See, I’m organized like that. Yep, I make a pile of each kid’s clothes, put them in plastic shopping bags, THEN put them in the suitcase so everyone’s stuff it together, but separate if you know what I mean.
I was really enjoying this moment of smug victory until I pulled out the Ty bag. Inside were 3 t-shirts, 3 tiny pairs of underpants and 3 pairs of socks. No jammies, and interestingly, no shorts. That meant, for the next 3 days, he’d be wearing the shorts he arrived in, currently caked in mud.
As T.J. swung around his pajamas, Ty frowned as he saw me pull out his t-shirt and underpants.
“Hey, Ty! I said too enthusiastically. “You get to wear your t-shirt to sleep tonight!” Come on come on come on take the sales pitch take it take it take it
“Ok, mama, now let’s go take our nice warm shower!”
So off to the showers we traipsed. I turned on the faucet and had the kids strip down while I waited for the icy water to warm a bit. I waited. Waited some more. I decided to try stall number two simply because I was in the first stage of grief, which of course is denial.
No hot water.
My children had never been filthier before in their entire lives. They needed to be cleaned at least a little and no sales pitch in the world was going to work this time. Ty dipped one finger in the water before running screaming from the stall. While chasing Ty, T.J. managed to wash his feet and the top two inches of his head. I finally caught Ty, and as fast as humanly possible dunked him under the spray and washed furiously. As far as Ty was concerned, this made the Silkwood Shower look like a day at the spa. Luckily, I still had my swimsuit on from earlier that day, so I managed to maintain so modicum of dignity while washing/abusing my offspring. I jammied them, brushed their teeth and sat them on the bathroom bench while I showered in water that was only slightly warmer than absolute zero. I’m fairly certain I at least briefly entered a state of suspended animation.
We met Tabor out in the corridor who with blue lips and a wide-eyed look told me, “I just took the coldest shower of my life.”
It was getting dark, and we were all ready for bed. We returned to the tent, tossed the luggage out onto the porch area to spread out the sleeping bags for some much needed rest.
“Mom?” asked Tabor. “Uh, where’s my sleeping bag?”
Oh no, I didn’t.
Actually, I DIDN’T!
“Wait! I know where it is!” I said thrilled that it wasn’t on my bed at home along with the jackets and Ty’s shorts. “It’s in the van!” I proudly declared.
“Oh ok, so where are the keys to the van?”
Well, they had to be around there somewhere. The problem was, the sun had set completely about 12 seconds before we realized we had a missing sleeping bag, so we pulled out our flashlights. My flashlight had about 15 % of its battery power left thanks to curious little people who’d discovered it earlier that day, and Tabor’s was one of those self-recharging numbers that had to be hand cranked every so often to generate any workable light.
WRRRrrrrrrrrr went the handcrank flashlight.
“Found them yet, mom?”
“Nope not yet, kids”
“Lost you keys?” came an eerily close voice from an adjacent tent.
“Yep, sure did”
Twenty minutes later, keys were found, sleeping bag was retrieved and keys were returned to the safest place we could think of: the cooler. We rolled out the sleeping bags and settled down to sleep.
Rocks dug into every crevice of my spine and I was unable to stop from rolling downhill due to the slight incline of the tent. Ty was already in a crumpled heap in the north east corner of the tent and the other two were furiously tossing and turning trying to find more comfortable rocks to sleep upon.
“Hey, Tabor, do you remember those cot mattresses we saw out on that platform?”
“I do!” he replied “They’re not far at all!”
I’m not even sure why I have this picture, but there they are: The Mattresses. They don’t look too bad from this distance.
We sneaked out of our tent, crept past two neighbors and swiped mattresses. It felt sort of naughty despite the fact that they were clearly available for use, but we giggled anyway as we made sure no one saw us make our way with the stolen booty. Stuffing the mattresses into the tent with two sleeping children was not going to happen. Tabor shoved, while I tried to redirect floppy bodies out of the way. Unfortunately, Tabor lost control and completely smacked T.J. upside the head, which actually sent us all (including a barely awake .T.J) into gales of laughter which elicited a stern flashlight warning from a neighboring tent that we were being too noisy.
The mattresses in place, we slept.
That was Day 1.
I woke up at 4:45 and realized I needed to wash Ty’s shorts. The sun was already rising so I got my first glimpse of the mattresses on which my precious children had been sleeping. Squalid doesn’t even come close. Clearly, before arriving at Cub Scout camp, these mattresses had served time in a Columbian prison. After washing the shorts, I managed to have one of those semi-dream hallucinations. Next thing I know, I hear the counselors hollering, “TEN MINUTES TILL BREAKFAST!”
After breakfast, it was time to gather Tabor’s gear together for the den campout up on the mesa. I wouldn’t be joining him for that, something we were both a little nervous about. It was a three mile hike up to the mesa so there was no way I’d be going with the T.J. and Ty. We would stay at the main campsite and hang out with the Tiger Cubs.
Tabor took off with the rest of his crew while T.J., Ty and I headed over to Tiger territory and were assigned to The Red Group. I was worried about how strenuous the day might be, but was delighted when we started off with a nature education lesson. This I could do. We ate oranges and talked about the local wildlife, all while enjoying the cool breeze in the dining hall. As we finished up, we headed out of the shelter. There was some mention of a nature walk and since this was a group of mostly 6 and 7 year olds I assumed we’d be staying nearby the shelter for things like snacks and potty, the life blood of the early elementary crowd. But we kept going. I nervously glanced over my shoulder and saw the shelter fading in the distance. Shortly thereafter, Ty refused to walk. Up on mommy’s shoulders we hiked, I occasionally managed to reach water to splash T.J. and keep myself from passing out. The hike became progressively more challenging to the point I was unable to provide shoulder rides and simply pushed Ty’s bottom uphill. He inexplicably became rejuvenated by the climb something I still consider divine intervention because he was able to make it down without my help. By the end to the hike I was completely disoriented probably dehydrated and thrilled to see that we had somehow ended up at our own campsite.
Craft time. The craft involved paper and glue and pipe cleaners which TJ completely boycotted in favor of drawing a dragon. Ty, however, couldn’t get enough glue and paper and pipe cleaners. I didn’t care. I was counting done the minutes to lunch and rest time.
But first, we had sling shots. Back to Kansas. It was well over a mile to the sling shot area. I was wearing possibly the ugliest combination of clothing I own, but truly didn’t care. It was about function over fashion. I needed to get my two kids and backpack to sling shots and I was focused. Dear God, it was far and hot. When we finally made it, I was thrilled to see that it was in a remarkably shady area. We drank water, had a small snack, and then lined up to hear the rules involved in the sling shot area. Because there is the possibility of injury in shooting paintballs at supersonic speeds, we had to listen to the paintball safety spiel. The kid in charge reminded of me of Jude Law, in the pre-cheating-on -his –wife-with -the -nanny years. He was handsome and cool came off as a bit too self-assured about everything. He annoyed me. I tapped my toe waiting for him to stop yapping.
“Alright,” he instructed, “all you have to do is say ‘PERMISSION TO ENTER THE RANGE’ as loud as you can and we’ll get going. Ready?”
The Tiger Cubs and TJ and Ty stood at attention, ready to shoot paintballs.
“One. . .” he counted, “two. . . THREE!”
“PERMISSION TO ENTER THE RANGE!” screamed eight little kids.
We all shuffled toward the entrance.
“All of you can go in except you. Back there in the platypus shirt. You weren’t loud enough.”
I was stunned. He was pointing at, SINGLING out, my sweet TJ in his beloved Perry the Platypus shirt. My child, who has struggled with speech and language issues, who is the shyest kid on the planet.
T.J. crumpled into a sob.
Jude Law must die.
I comforted T.J. and shot daggers at Jude Law who looked on, stunned.
“Thanks for that therapy moment, “I growled.
“I-I-I’m so sorry, I did-“he stammered.
“We’ll be going in now,” I said ushering in my children. It took T.J. a few minutes to calm down, but he actually did pretty well once he got the hang of it. Ty played in the dirt.
And, because I could’ve been a sniper if I hadn’t been a mom, I hit every target I aimed for imagining with each shot it was Jude Law’s big fat mouth.
Lunch was chicken again, but we got to see Tabor before he set of on his Webelos campout. I was so looking forward to rest time, and hoped to get everyone to nap a bit. We entered the tent, and the kids immediately stopped.
“Mommy, my bed is yucky.” Ty pointed in accusation at the nasty stolen mattresses.
“Ew, mommy, that’s gross,” said TJ.
“It’s disgusting,” added Tabor in case I needed clarification.
“Guys, let’s just make the most of it. We could all use a rest.” I hastily tried to cover up the most offensive stains with towels and sleeping bags.
“Now, just close your eyes and try to relax.
In mere moments, I felt like New Age guru James Arthur Ray leading an ill-fated spiritual retreat. Sweat poured down our cheeks and our core body temperatures were rapidly rising. Napping was out of the question.
“Everybody out!” I ordered. The kids dutifully (and gratefully filed out) and helped me drag chairs over to a nearby shady area. There was 20 minutes left in rest time.
Tabor stared off into space for about ten minutes before it was time for him to take off for his hike. Seeing the minutes slip away, I suited up the little ones for the Red Group’s swimming trip to the lake. Life vest, goggles towel, and kids in tow, we headed to our designated spot just in time for the sky to open up. Parents around me furiously unzipped backpacks and threw rain ponchos on their children. TJ looked at me.
“Well, we are wearing our swimsuits,” I argued.
We ambled on to the lake just in time to hear the staff yell, “LIGHTNING!” Then in unison they all screamed, “LAKE CLOSED!” Unwillingly to stand in the rain for the next 45 minutes I decided to return to the tent. After all, the rain had cooled things off so perhaps we could get a nap in after all. We schlepped back to the tent in the rain only to make an intriguing discovery: the tent is not waterproof.
I opened to the tent to escape the rain, only to note that the rain continued on the inside, albeit at a slower rate. I frantically threw garbage bags over our luggage and clothing and grabbed the tarp that had lined the porch area of the tent. With the kids inside but still being rained on, I secured the tarp to the top of the tent. It was crazy enough to work. The tarp held back the rain and we were mostly dry.
There’s nothing worse than the hope of the nap that doesn’t come to fruition. Despite the fact I was beyond exhausted, TJ and Ty were quite frisky. Something about being stuck in the tent on a rainy day just begged for a tickle fight and I was powerless to stop it.
I thought about Tabor hiking in the rain.
The rain stopped and immediately the sun reappeared creating the aforementioned sauna like environment in the tent. We crawled out and discovered we had missed Red Group’s trip on to archery. I was really ok with this since archery was even further than Kansas. The kids played in the dirt while I sought out a cell phone signal. Text messages weren’t even getting through in a timely manner and I needed a vote of confidence. I stood on a rock, dialed and prayed I could reach my husband.
“Tom!” I shouted excitedly when I heard his voice. And then it was over.
Dinner was pulled pork, salad and “Cowboy Stew” that the Webelos had made before their hike. Imagine the saltiest thing you’ve ever tasted. Now, add more salt, two vegetables and a piece of gristly meat. Now you have Cowboy Stew. I ate pulled pork like it was going out of style and begged the kids to at least take tiny bites of salad, but they were happy with their apples and oranges.
Then a miracle happened: a rumor spread that there was hot water in one of the other campsites. To me, nothing else mattered in the world. If there was hot water somewhere in a five mile radius, I would find it.
“Guys!” I hissed, leaning into them. “There may be hot water!” I wasn’t making any promises after that had happened the night before. Ty frowned. “I don’t know about that shower, mama.”
“No, no, I really think it’ll be different this time,” I said sounding like a shady character from a cheap novel.
After some convincing, we gathered up jammies, a t-shirt for Ty, and headed over to the other campsite. I was nervous entering the stall and cautiously turned on the water. It was a mere trickle really, but deliciously, gloriously warm. I scooped up Ty and and ushered TJ into the spray, watching their faces as they welcomed the experience.
We returned to the tent and snuggled in for books. Ty fell asleep in my arms in record time. I placed him in his sleeping bag and tucked his precious Baby Tiger in next to him.
T.J. and I went outside. We talked about birds and planets. He picked up a rock and we pretended he was the sun and the earth was the rock. He giggled as I turned the stone in my fingers and walked around his body.
“I miss Tabor,” he said.
“Me too, “I sighed.
We sat in the chair until we couldn’t see anymore, and then went to bed.
I woke to a drizzle of rain in the middle of the night.
I thought of Tabor sleeping in the rain.
Breakfast was powdered eggs and ham of questionable origin. I tried to get T.J. and Ty to eat as much as possible since we were running low on snacks. At least I had brought snacks to fill in the hunger gaps.
We met up with the Red Group and began with compass training. The little ones were really whiny. They didn’t want to walk anymore and were already complaining of the heat even though it was only 8:30 in the morning. It was going to be a long day. After compasses, we were scheduled for obstacle course followed by BB guns. What it boiled down to was BB guns. I thought T.J. would be sad if he missed the opportunity. We just had to make it through obstacle course which of course was back in Kansas. By this point in the trip Ty completely boycotted all bipedalism, so he was hoisted back up on my shoulders. I was actually feeling strangely proud of my ability to carry my backpack and child (all while keeping up with the other child) and thought, not at all flippantly about woman around the world who endure this reality on a daily basis.
Despite his initial reluctance to participate, TJ lit up when he saw the obstacle course. He loves to climb, and indeed, showed and impressive display of monkeyness when it was his turn to go. It was a boost of confidence following the previous day’s Jude Law incident. Ty played in the dirt.
Only two minutes away, the BB gun range was in a shady shelter, and we were able to lie on our bellies to shoot. It was almost like a nap, except we were firing guns. Luckily, the BB gun station was well staffed so while I helped TJ, the staff assisted Ty who showed some notable marksmanship skills. I was thrilled with the way Ty was patiently helped so I could keep my attention on TJ.
“TABOR!” I heard TJ shout before I’d even put Ty on the ground. It had only been 24 hours, but with tears in our eyes we hugged like it had been a lifetime. We sat down to our meatball and gluten free mac n’ cheese to exchange stories. He’d had a hard night, missing us, but
“the medic gave me some homesickness medicine.” My heart broke at the sweet innocence of his claim and I mentally gave thanks to a medic who was prepared for such emergencies.
After lunch we began loading his gear into the car. There were activities scheduled up until early that evening, but we were all feeling fairly weary.
“Let’s see how we feel after we take down the tent,” I suggested as we weighed to pros and con of staying versus heading home early. We went back to the tent and I began gathering up a few smaller bags near the ice chest, in the area where we’d kept the snacks. Tabor jumped a bit.
“Mom? I just saw a mouse.” Tabor pointed to a small gray furry creature scurrying away.
“Oh, yes, it is,” I nervously remarked. Mice in Petsmart? Cute. Mice in their natural element? Not cute.
I focused on the opposite side of the tent.
“HOLY CRAP!” I shouted. There was another one. And another.
My unfortunate expletive got the attention of the den leader who came over to investigate.
“Mice,” I blurted out.
“Did you eat over in the area?” he asked in slight accusation.
“Well, we did have some snacks,” I said in a very small voice.
He shook his head. “It doesn’t take much.”
He offered to take the tent down while I took the rest of the stuff to the van. Quite frankly, I chickened out. I suspected what would happen when that tent was taken down, and it wouldn’t be pretty.
As I came back up the hill to the tent area, the kids came running excitedly talking over one another. “You should have SEEN the mice run when we moved the tent! You should have seen all those mouses, mama!”
I awkwardly thanked the den leader, feeling a bit like I’d starred in a camping episode of Hoarders. As far I was concerned, this camping trip was done. And just when the kids started begging me to take them to the boating, God threw me a bone. Actually, he threw me a bolt of lightning.
Too bad, kids.