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Camping With Boys ...

Camping With Boys ...

From earliest human history, people have devised a variety of ingenious ways to protect themselves against the ravages of nature. Clothes can range from a simple loin-cloth to fashion-designer outfits (in some cases, they are one and the same), and homes can encompass everything from huts and igloos to apartments and mansions.

In every case, people are responding to a basic human need to protect their bodies from the elements as they go about their day and to have a shelter to return to when they see danger approaching, such as a life insurance salesman.

Americans have always tended toward sturdy and spacious structures whenever possible. We are not a nomadic people living in tents and hunkering down over fires. This is mostly because the Pilgrims, after suffering through those wretched early years, had seen enough of snow, wind, pouring rain, suffocating heat, and swarms of insects to last five lifetimes and embarked on a building spree that continues to this very day.

If they could look down upon us now, I am sure that they would be astonished at what we have wrought. We not only shelter ourselves from the elements in houses and condominiums, but we can also control our indoor climate through the use of air conditioners. We can store refrigerated food in our kitchens and create instant dinners in microwave ovens. In short, we have largely overcome all the physical hardships they endured.

Yes, the Pilgrims would indeed be impressed—until they noticed that millions of us regularly abandon our safe and comfortable homes in the heat of SUMMER and drive to FORESTS that are absolutely jammed with WILDLIFE and INSECTS where we sleep in TENTS on the GROUND and hunker over FIRE PITS fueled by FLAMING MARSHMALLOWS and try to catch FISH which we then have to GUT when we have Heat & Serve Pasta at home in the FREEZER. And these Pilgrims would give one another incredulous looks and say things like, “Canst thou believest thine eyes, William? Our progeny, for which we hath risked life and limb, are idiots and buffoons!”

And we are!

Not only are grown people—many of whom are not alcoholics—willingly venturing out into an unpredictable and dangerous environment, which in a great many cases lacks showers, but in the overwhelming number of cases we are taking our boys!

Recipe for Disaster

Mix active boys with dirt, a cold stream, pinecones, sap, and chipmunks. Stir in three cans of OFF! brand mosquito repellent, cold scrambled eggs, syrup, expensive binoculars, and pillows. Zip into sleeping bags and add spooky animal sounds. Allow to rise at 4:30 a.m. without changing their clothes. Whip coffee into adults. Repeat until rainstorm arrives. Finished when adults do not respond when poked with a toothpick.

No matter how many times we do this, we keep coming back for more. I think that trees must give off some judgment-impairing chemical that keeps us returning again and again. Perhaps we pollinate the forest without knowing it.

Whatever the case, Dale and I also flung common sense to the wind one year (it was blowing northeast, as I recall) and drove to Lake Almanor in northern California when Mark and Brad were ages seven and five.

The kids really wanted to fish, and I really wanted to fish, which was a perfect situation, except for the fact that we had completely different definitions of what it meant to fish.

To me, “fishing” means a quiet couple of hours casting lures into a calm and quiet lake. It is a time to soak in the scenery, shed the tension of the city, and entice a trout to strike at a flashing bit of metal.

To Mark and Brad, “fishing” meant a maximum of four casts, and unless they caught something, they were going to throw rocks in the water, or wade, or chase a chipmunk, or look for snakes, or any of one hundred options that did not include shedding the tension of the city and soaking up the calm and quiet scenery. Additionally, each cast by a young boy turns immediately into an enormous project rivaling a space shuttle launch (only with much more monofilament).

Fishing Gear Tip:

When fishing with young boys you can save hours and hours of time by, first thing when you arrive at the water’s edge, ripping handfuls of monofilament from the spools and shaking fifty-seven lures into the resulting ball of line. The amateurs tend to dink around for half the day before they arrive at this point. You might just as well get it over and be done with it.

So we didn’t catch any fish; nor did we shed much tension or soak up much scenery. We did, however, soak up a lot of water.

I had purchased a four-person raft to go with our four-person tent. In both cases, the manufacturer must have meant “four person” to mean “two sets of Siamese twins” or “four people with a drastic genetic disorder rendering them all the size of wiener dogs.”

We squeezed into the raft and paddled around the lake for a while until the kids were cold. We made it safely back to shore, but somehow, employing roughly the same physical law that says when one person jumps off the teeter-totter the other person is going to have an unpleasant landing, the minute the kids jumped onto the shore, Dale was unceremoniously dumped into a very cold body of water. At least the kids had the maturity to make sure she was OK before they started laughing, so I guess that is a good sign.

We hauled her from the lake and covered her with blankets in the car while I attempted to erect the tent.

The packaging on our tent said that it was a “dome” style, but “dome” actually meant “about the size of a large umbrella.” Always the optimist, Dale said that it would look much better once it was set up. (She didn’t realize that it was set up. When it wasn’t set up, it looked like a deflated beach ball punctured by four bent bic pens.)

By the time we fit in Mark’s and Brad’s sleeping bags, shoes, jammies, stuffed toys, and sizable plastic weapons arsenal, there was no room for us. (Our children had a pathological, almost hysterical fear of the dark, hence the dependence on weapons. Their pediatrician said they would have outgrown it much sooner if I had not kept telling them scary stories at night.)

I tried to convince Dale that it would be fun to sleep out in the open with no tent barring our view of the stars. After breaking into a gale of sustained laughter and rolling around on the ground while pointing at me, she elected to fold down the backseats of the station wagon and sleep in the car. She was not deterred by my observation that she looked like a vagrant.

Actually, I would have joined her, but we had to leave all the food boxes and coolers inside the car to discourage bears from invading. There was no room for me. So she cuddled up to the picnic basket while I drifted off to sleep beneath the Big Dipper, nestled comfortably in the four-wiener-dog raft.

Actually, “drifted off to sleep” is not quite accurate. Drifted merrily downstream is more like it. A sudden, raging rainstorm sent a small river through our camp, dousing the fire and turning my sleeping bag into a gargantuan sponge. And the zipper was jammed. I abandoned the raft and lurched toward the car. It was locked. And Dale is a sound sleeper. Either that or she was getting back at me for comparing her to a hobo.

I tapped on the windows, thumped the door panels, rocked the car back and forth, shouted apologies, promised to go to the fabric store without rolling my eyes or yawning—a bomb blast wouldn’t have elicited a yawn from her. So I waded back into the river and made toward the kids’ tent.

Looking back on it now, I realize that telling them that spooky story before bedtime was not the best of all possible entertainment choices. I didn’t want to wake them, so I did not announce myself as I crawled slowly into the tent. That proved to be a costly lapse in judgment. All they knew was that the slimy Sponge Creature from Neptune was slowing oozing into their tent.

I am still not quite sure what hit me, but the nurse assured me that I will regain most of my limb function after I complete all of the physical therapy.

After that kind of forest experience, you may be wondering why on earth Dale and I have the gumption and courage (a.k.a. foolishness and brain damage) to even venture out onto our front lawn.

In two words: desperate optimism.

Like most parents, we are desperate optimists. We have to be. All parents operate on the premise, wholly without any basis in empirical evidence, that things have to get better.

Oh sure, the campfire may have gotten a little out of control last time when one of the kids decided to “encourage” the flames by squirting charcoal lighter fluid directly onto the coals and then panicking when the flames started to race toward the bottle and so he dropped the entire twenty-four ounces of highly combustible fluid right into the fire and the burgers literally launched off the grill and are now stuck to a NASA satellite, but surely things will be better next time.

Optimism, even in the face of today’s reality, is the mainstay of parenthood. Without it, we would be hysterical and insane and make appearances on daytime television talk shows alongside the people who believe the moon is really a massive interstellar cotton ball and all of our cosmetic puffs are actually alien life forms.

If you are a parent, and have ever taken your kids out to a restaurant with another family, and your kids simply could not stop making faces at each other or blowing bubbles in their drinks or playing footsie under the table or giggling at other patrons, you have more than likely been so embarrassed that you quietly vowed—between sharp, quick commands of “stop it right this instant!”—that you are NEVER taking them out to dinner again. But you did anyway.

Was it because there was a sudden and profound change in your children? Was it because you one day awoke to the sight of your boys waxing the kitchen floor and placing fresh flowers on the breakfast table and saying, in charming British accents, “Good morning, dearest Mother! How might we make this a pleasant day for you?” (If the answer is yes, they either broke something expensive or they want money.)

No, you took them out again because you said to yourself, “They wouldn’t dare do that to me again.”

That is what I mean by desperate optimism. It isn’t just about camping or going out to dinner. It is about getting out of bed every day. It is about the whole prospect of raising kids.

The hope that things will all work out and our boys will grow up to be decent, thoughtful, caring, and responsible Christian men—even though, just an hour ago, they were trying to find out if the fence would catch on fire from just the beam of a magnifying glass (the answer is yes)—is the thin thread on which we hang our fondest dreams. We boldly, audaciously assume that our kids will someday become mature adults capable of being entrusted with the task of raising their own children and running the country and safely using a Black and Decker power saw because children are a gift from the Lord and, unlike with Sears, you are not allowed to return them even if you have a receipt.

There is no turning back. God has landed you on the wild shore called parenthood, and if you turn around you will notice He has set a torch to the ship that brought you there.

Our optimism, although sometimes tinged with desperation, springs from our assurance that God is good and that His grace, coupled with our tears, prayers, and hard work, can prevail in the end.

Yep. Those little munchkins who insisted on bringing home a bucket of extremely deceased and fragrant crayfish found on the beach are the same souls God desires to be the leaders of tomorrow. If we lose hope, if we fail to do our part as parents, we not only endanger the next generation, but we might just as well kiss off Social Security.

We are attempting to do with our boys what the Pilgrims did with their new land. We are taming nature.

Camping is almost a metaphor for that. The tent represents a safe place in the world you create for your kids. The campfire represents the basic human passions that need to be both coaxed and controlled. And the flaming marshmallows represent your need for a substantial liability insurance policy.


Excerpted from:
Boyhood Daze
Copyright © 1999, Dave Meurer
ISBN: 1556612095
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.

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