One way or another I was going to get to camp. Not the kind of camp that your mom and dad drop you off in the morning and then pick you up on the way back from work, but the real kind of camp—bunk beds, bonfires, and hanging out by the lake. I was convinced that I would have a way more awesome experience than Haley Mills had in The Parent Trap. Kristy McNichol and Tatum O’Neal wasted all of their fun camp time chasing boys in Little Darlings and I definitely wasn’t going to do that. I knew that I would get to camp North Star and hang with my pal Tripper, just like Chris Makepeace did in Meatballs. I wanted it all: the swimming, the sailing, the dances, the food fights, the hiking, the boys…
Yeah, well, that didn’t quite work out the way that I had hoped. Seven kids in one household and barely enough money to feed all of us every week pretty much stopped that dream in its tracks. Looking back, I now realize that I do harbor some resentment about it, but I can’t blame the parents. I mean, they fulfilled their parental duties by keeping me alive and I’m pretty sure I never had them sign a contract stating that they had to keep me entertained at the same time, so, legally, they’re in the clear. I have, however, reserved the right to bring up this lack of childhood experience every few years and remind them that any flaws in my personality directly correlate to the fact that I didn’t get to participate in overnight camp. They pretty much don’t give a shit, but I like to bring it up anyway. Maybe I can get them to fund a weekend trip at a mountain spa just to shut me up.
Thinking back, there were a couple of Girl Scout campout weekends that I was able to enjoy and I did love those days quite a bit, but I never met anyone new and there never was a bonfire or a dance to meet boys. Just a lot of needlepoint, cooking dinner, and staying up late to tell ghost stories. Part of me wants to write how dumb those weekends were, but, no, they were pretty awesome. Points to the parents for putting me in Girl Scouts. (Except for having to peddle the cookies, I had a lot of fun.)
I also managed to get to camp when I was in high school, when I spent a week each during junior and senior year as a counselor with local sixth graders participating in their Outdoor Education experience. My itch for camp got scratched quite a bit, but how much fun can you really have when you’re the person that has to be responsible for everything? It was much more of blast to do the training for being a counselor when I got to do crap like trying to get my teammates out of a space cordoned off with rope about five feet high and no ladder at my disposal or practice first aid by wrapping my best friend’s head in three packages of bandages. Still no bonfire, but there was a pretty cool “counselors only” talent show where we did a long and disgusting bit about ear wax. Year by year, I was getting closer to my overnight camping ideal, but things still weren’t living up to what I had built up in my head.
Of course, the years went on and on and my opportunities became few and far between and then pretty much non-existent. The hubby took me out tent camping with some friends a few times but it wasn’t the same. I didn’t want to be the one to do the work! And I still don’t. I’d much rather have my butler drive me up to a camp office, take care of all of my luggage, and be escorted to my fantabulous cabin that has room for twelve but only has six girls living in it…Wait, I think I just described the newer Parent Trap movie. (BTW, this is the only time I will ever admit to wanting to be Lindsay Lohan.) Setting up tents and cooking dinner on a campfire were pursuits I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a part of then and I sure as hell don’t want to be a part of now.
It never occurred to me that my son would want to go camping. We tried to placate his interest by setting up a tent in the basement and pretending to camp, but it wasn’t the same thing and he knew it. I was going to have to go camping again. And not the cool Meatballs camping, either. Damn it. So, off to Costco to buy more food and snacks that could be eaten in a month, much less a weekend, and down to the utility room to look the pile of camping junk we hadn’t touched for at least a couple of years. Oh yeah, we’re ready, baby.
Two hours and many, many, many miles later we were at a decently sized lake (don’t ask me what is was called, because I blocked it out) and parked in our reserved spot. Again, not one to do work if I can help it, I agreed when our friends, who had already been camping for a day, asked if we wanted to drive to the swimming area instead of setting up camp right away. This was the single best decision we could have made because the rest of the trip was a freaking nightmare.
I could see the weather coming in and figured the best thing we could do would be to rush back to our spot and put up our tent before everything became a mud puddle (and when putting up a tent would become impossible). Greg agreed (don’t ask me why) and we rushed to put up the tent. Not two seconds after we had it up, a huge gust of wind and wall of heavy rain came pounding out of the sky. The air was suddenly filled with the jackets and tarps and rafts of other campers flying to the lake. Huge tents were being ripped from the ground and even some of the pop-up trailers were collapsing under the strain of the relentless wind. For some unknown reason our tent held even as everything we had inside was completely soaked. We abandoned the tent for the RV our friends were comfortably sitting in and tried to recover. It’s kind of hard to have thankful feelings for the warmth and safety of your friends when they’re sitting on a couch eating snacks and watching television while you are living a nightmare. They sucked. Well, until I found out they had a working clothes dryer. Friends again!
We tried to stick it out overnight in the smaller 1-2 person tent we had also brought with us, but it wasn’t meant to be. Trying to sleep in a mostly dry sleeping bag that smelled like unwashed dog while being squashed between a damp tent wall and the forty-five pound deadweight of the child I was conquering hell for, was an exercise in stupidity. By one o’clock that morning we had had it. It was so stifling and hard to breathe that I am convinced that if we had tried to push through to the morning one of us would have died of carbon dioxide poisoning. We bundled up the boy, buckled him in the backseat and then threw every damn piece of camping equipment into the back of our car. Didn’t stop to tell our friends and didn’t stop until we got home (unless you count the quick visit to the campground bathroom that I almost couldn’t get out of because it wouldn’t unlock—and did I mention is was pitch dark?) some two and half hours later. Home sweet home.
My camping dreams were over. Screw you, tents! Screw you, sleeping bags and mosquitoes! And screw you, Bill Murray! Camp North Star could kiss my ass. Camping was no longer a word in my vocabulary and that was just the way it was. Until the movie Indian Summer showed up on television and I was transported again to a place where kids had fun all day learning to swim, sang songs at campfires, and found best friends. It was quite startling to find out that my desires about overnight camp hadn’t changed at all, they just were hidden behind all of the other stuff I had used to try to replace it with. Camp looked cool again.
I knew that I wouldn’t be the one who would be able to have such an experience, so I started investigating to find something that my son would enjoy. It would mean he was away from his mom and dad for a week, but I was convinced it was the right thing to do. We found a place not too far from home and took a trip up to the campground when it was snowy and, basically, abandoned and took a tour. My bubba was enamored. He definitely wanted to go to camp and he was going to have the best time ever! My heart smiled and I started the process to get him enrolled. Five months later we dropped him off at camp to start his new adventure.
My baby has now been at camp for exactly eight hours, thirty-five minutes and 28 seconds and I have mixed feelings. I picture him in his pajamas sleeping on the top bunk of his bed and clutching the lime-green colored monkey that accompanied him on this trip and not going to sleep because he wants to talk about Pokémon. I see him waking up tomorrow to go rock-climbing with his new friends and then swimming in the lake. I see him trying new things and having the most fun ever. I’m jealous. I admit it. I’m so jealous that I think I might not even get any sleep tonight thinking about all of the great things he’s going to be able to do. But, I also know that I can live through him and I can find joy in the fact that at least ONE of us got to go to overnight camp, and for a whole week, too. And it will be okay– because I will always have Meatballs.
© DRB 2015