I went camping with two of my three kids this weekend. Actually, the three of us went camping with my two brothers-in-law and their kids. Three adults and five young-ones (three five-year-olds, an eight-year-old and a nine-year-old), we’d planned to camp and canoe in the wilds of Northern Michigan.
Before we left, the dads got together and we called an audible. The storm from hell had blown in and the weather service was predicting rain all weekend long. The news had both of them wavering – I wasn’t. “Some of the most memorable safaris I ever led were in the rain” I implored my brothers-in-law… doing everything I could to try to convince them that we’d have a blast regardless of the weather. When that strategy didn’t work… I’m not too proud to admit that I fought dirty by insulting them and questioning their manhood (I took the liberty of speaking on behalf of Zeus and told them that their Man-Cards were going to be withdrawn).
The short version of what transpired is that democracy won the day and with a vote of two-to-one, our Rustic Camping and Canoeing Trip morphed into a Yuppie Road Trip. I didn’t like the decision we made, but for the kids’ sake, begrudgingly I went along with it.
Knowing that we weren’t going to be sun-tanning on the banks of the Au Sable River that afternoon, playing in the shallows and catching our river-fresh-fish-dinner, we stopped instead at a butcher en route and caught an 11-pound Delmonico Steak… biggest Delmonico Steak I ever saw.
Pulling into the three-bedroom condominium we were able to rent at the last minute at a swanky resort, led to much excitement amongst the little ones and two of the dads.
Even though I was still sulking a little at our change in plan, the children’s glee was contagious and it didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed to Suck-it Up. Once I saw it, there was no escaping my awareness that if I didn’t relax and engage authentically and enthusiastically, I was going to spoil the trip for everyone. Because I care about my kids and wanted them to have a great time, I chose to get my act together and did so quickly.
Phew, I briefly marveled at how cool it is to be able so see that I always have choices. I didn’t have to be pissed-off and spoil things for everyone… all the while justifying my choices and behavior with the tranquilizing self justifying narrative that “I was right!” I could skip whining (to myself) about not getting my way, sniveling (to myself) that the other two didn’t appreciate/get/see that I was more experienced when it came to camping and that I knew what I was talking about and what was best for the group blah, blah… and could instead focus on what was important… five kids and their dad’s having a great weekend together.
Sitting around enjoying the Olympics on TV (I’m starting to see that there’s something to be said for Yuppie Road Trips) whilst the kids bounced on their beds and generally created havoc… we all (the dads) chucked when at 1:48am my son Jack called it a day imploring his cousins “It’s 1:48 in the morning. It is soooooooooooooo past my bed time!”
The next afternoon, pretty exhausted after a sugar-and-excitement-laced-evening followed by a surprisingly fun filled morning at the water park we pulled into a campground and set up camp.
As my kids and I rolled out our sleeping mats and sleeping bags, we watched my brothers-in-law roll out their tent carpet and use their battery-powered air pumps to inflate their queen size air mattresses. Reaffirming the notion that though we all (debatably) speak the same language, given our different backgrounds, experiences and concerns, the same words obviously mean different things to different people. I now know that I need to ask more questions the next time we talk about going on a camping trip.
On Sunday morning my daughter Kate woke me up real early to watch the sunrise. Sitting by the fire-pit as we coaxed the fire back to life, Kate conspiratorially leant towards me and whispered, “Dad, let’s make S’mores for breakfast.” A little while later as we huddled around the campfire, with as much marshmallow and chocolate as we could muster binding the Graham Crackers together to make S’mores Extraordinaire, a tradition was born and one of the highlights of my life was created.
When we got home Sunday night, my wife Carrie asked how the camping trip went, I told her:
- We spent the first night at a swanky resort
- The next morning we had an outrageously great time at a waterpark… the first time I’ve ever been to a waterpark
- We camped at a pretty sketchy campground and the kids loved it
- We ate ten pounds of Delmonico Steak, twenty-four hot dogs, loads of chocolate, fruit salad and almost all of the snacks we took
- I had all five kids crying due to what I can now see was an age inappropriate scary campfire story
- We brought home no dirty laundry and almost all of the toothpaste we left with
- We had S’mores for breakfast
- We swam in Lake Michigan… it was sooooooooooooo cold but it took everything we had to get the kids out of the water!
- I had one of the best breakfasts ever… burnt sausages, burnt eggs, burnt coffee, burnt pancakes
- Our kids both cried at some point because they missed their mom, their sister Erin and Shumba our dog… but both made quick recoveries
- We began a bunch of new traditions… and created a treasure trove of memories