Tag Archive 'camping with children'

Jun 30 2009

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The Simple Things

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Once a year, Judy and I run a summer camp for our older grandkids, ages 4 through 12.  No parents allowed.  We’ve been doing this since 2004 and each year our plans get a little more sophisticated, with organized games, arts and crafts, and a theme of some sort.  But it’s the simple things that make the get-together work – things like running barefoot in the grass, being goofy, and drinking lemonade in the shade of our old maple tree.  The rest is just window dressing.

This year, I went a little crazy building a temporary, two-story playhouse out of wood that I called a space ship.  Judy spent the better part of an afternoon painting it.  The kids loved it, of course, but not as much as sleeping in the tent, swimming or fishing.  These activities are the staples of summer camp despite our elaborate constructs.

I took some of the kids for a hike up Aldis Hill while Judy picked strawberries with the rest.  The girls picked daisies from our wildflower garden and put them in the playhouse.  Several days later, the flowers are still there, still blooming in a paper cup full of water.   On the last day of summer camp, the kids collected shells and rocks while Judy and I set up a picnic lunch on the shore of Lake Champlain.  I showed the youngest ones how to skip stones across the water’s surface.  This is a skill every child should have.

Electronic devices are encroaching upon summer camp.  Judy and I are doing our best to keep them at bay.  It isn’t easy.  Cell phones, ipods and hand-held computer games are a big part of a child’s world these days.  All the same, a boy or a girl will drop everything and chase a frog halfway across the yard when given the chance.  If they’ve learned how to spot it, that is.

Our day lilies opened up the same day that the Virginia half of the family arrived.  Hummingbirds visited Judy’s feeder while they were here, as well.  Bees gathered pollen from the flowers in the front yard garden.  Thunderstorms came and went.  We casually pointed out the beauty and wonder of all these things as the children played.  It’s a subtle form of indoctrination, I suppose.

Judy and I don’t care if the kids remember the details of our annual get-togethers or not, as long as they remember the laughter, loving and all encompassing green.  Various phrases are used to describe this somewhat complex concept but, in my humble opinion, it all comes down to one word: summer.  Let the children know that much and the world will be a better place.  Sometimes it’s the simple things that make the difference.

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Aug 19 2008

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Backyard Campout

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This is where it begins: two tents pitched in the back yard on a warm, dry, late-summer afternoon. Immediately following dinner, five kids carry a bunch of stuff outside and fill the tents. Pillows, sleeping bags, extra blankets, flashlights, stuffed animals, playing cards, books and games – the sheer mass of it all is quite formidable. No matter. This is no backpacking trip.

Judy stays in the house to harbor anyone who’s too afraid to stay out there. The bigger kids have camped out before but this is the first time for John and Mason, the two 4-year-olds. We expect at least one of them to cut and run. I kiss my wife, take a deep breath then slip out the door. It could be a long night.

Everyone’s too excited to sleep, naturally. They marvel at the full moon just now rising into the night sky, then chatter excitedly while filing into the tents. “Zip up the screen door!” I yell to the other kids as I usher the youngest camper, John, into my tent. The mosquitoes are bad this year and the repellent they’re all wearing is only marginally effective.

Through the screen of my tent, I can see everyone in the other tent three feet away. They giggle, jump around and shine their flashlights everywhere. I settle them down a bit then read one bedtime story. My “no talking” rule goes into effect at 9 p.m. and “lights out” at 9:30. The giggling continues a while longer, until I threaten to send people in the house. By ten, all is quiet. A train rumbles past. A muscle car roars down a nearby street. A dog barks in the distance, but the incessant creak-creak of crickets gradually lulls my tired crew to sleep.

Potty runs into the house occur every couple hours or so. I remain ever vigilant, grabbing a few winks as I can. Shortly after sunrise, I’m the first to awaken. I quietly do a Sudoku puzzle while a warm breeze wafts through the tent and leaves rustle. A cardinal calls out, then blue jays, then robins.

One by one, my grandkids pop up like wild lilies opening in the spring. They awaken to the wild ever so slowly – all but the eldest one completely unaware what is happening to them. They’ve been exposed. In due time, my little campers will beg me to take them into the woods for a night or two. And someday I will.

It begins on a Sunday morning, with all six of us crowded into one tent, laughing and talking. Judy is up and fixing breakfast before anyone can drag snacks into the tent and make a mess. She and I are surprised that both of the two younger ones have taken to camping as well as they have. We see lots of camping trips in our future. All we need is another tent for her, the dog, and more stuff.

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