Family legend has it that sometime in toddlerhood, I went camping.
It didn’t go well, so the story goes. I couldn’t — or wouldn’t — fall asleep. I talked all night. I stumbled around the tent, much to the chagrin of my sleep-deprived parents.
It was the last time anyone took me camping.
Really, that was fine with me. Years later, when I could have taken myself, I chose not to. I’m not particularly fond of extreme temperatures. Or critters. Or the lack of control that comes from sleeping in natural surroundings, without a passel of pillows and layers of covers.
Cooper has been a Cub Scout for four years, and every time he’s gone camping, we’ve found an adult other than me to go with him.
Really, that was fine with him. He preferred an experienced camper at his side. Someone who wouldn’t squirm upon finding daddy longlegs in the latrine or a copperhead in a tent. Someone who embraced sleeping on the ground — or at least faked it well.
Now my son is just months away from bridging from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts. The family-inclusive campouts are almost history. Moms don’t just tag along on Boy Scout excursions — they have to be fully trained and registered volunteers in the organization.
So last weekend’s Cub Scout family camping weekend was my best opportunity to see what Cooper has learned about life in the wild — and my best chance to redeem that awful camping night from so long ago.
You could argue that I didn’t really camp. I was onsite for maybe 14 hours. We were just six miles from home. I was able to go home to shower and brush my teeth with running water.
I would argue that it was a good first step.
Some lessons learned:
Choose a flat site for your tent. Cooper chose our patch of land by the lake and expertly pitched our tent with just a little assistance from me and little sister Katie.
What he didn’t notice was the slight incline on which the tent was assembled. After s’mores were eaten and sleeping bags beckoned, the three of us climbed into the tent and discovered the angle.
“Sleep with your head up, Mommy,” Cooper said with authority.
I did, but my sleeping bag kept sliding down the cot, carrying my body with it. All night long I wrestled with that slippery sleeping bag on a slope, silently wishing we had moved the tent to a flatter spot before taps had sounded.
Some habits run in the family. Katie wasn’t exactly the tiny version of me. She slept off and on throughout the night (often curled up in a protective, heat-conserving ball at the low end of the tent).
But she did talk a lot. She chattered while we all tried to fall asleep. Woke up talking when she needed to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Talked off and on after that until sunrise.
“Mommy, I want to go out and play!” she’d announce with surprising clarity for 3 a.m. My mumbled reply was always no.
“Mommy, this is the longest night ever,” she said once. I agreed as enthusiastically as possible for 4 a.m.
Camping isn’t as scary as I’d imagined. Yes, I was slightly uncomfortable. I shivered all morning, after escaping our cozy tent and braving bone-chilling winds. I narrowly avoided some mud. There was no method for drying hands in the (mercifully clean) bathroom.
But there were no bug bites, no scary wildlife encounters.
There were plenty of opportunities to enjoy the still lake and a few birds and the sounds of children running, chasing and laughing. And to watch my outdoorsy, nature-loving son in his element.
That alone makes me willing to try it again.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at email@example.com.
UPDATE: Last week, I wrote about how my family planned to celebrate my late husband’s birthday. We were hoping that friends would help us perform at least 43 acts of kindness to honor Steve’s 43rd birthday. The response was overwhelming.
I received more than 200 reports of good deeds from Nov. 4; some are still trickling in. You can read about these kind acts on my personal blog: checkonsteve.blogspot.com.