A Campsite Reflection

I took my oldest two kids, Matthias and Alethea, camping last week. It was Matthias’ third time and Alethea’s second camping adventure here in Texas. So far, we have visited three different state parks; we’re hoping to visit a different park each camping trip. To prove my commitment, I am now the proud owner of a state park pass—hopefully this encourages a few extra outings.

Camping is a special time. Somehow time seems to slow so that at eleven a.m., when we finished our first hike together, we were all convinced we had missed lunch and were approaching mid-afternoon. It is also an ideal time for reflection. Which prompted me to consider the shift from myself as a child participant camper to a parent facilitator.

As the Child

I grew up in a camping family. There was even a year in which my parents took me and my brothers tent camping once a month for a full year—for any southerners reading along, the significance of this is that half of Wisconsin’s year is winter (the kind with snow)! I loved camping as a kid, and why not? It is a chance to play with knives, fire, and explore the woods.

As a child in a state park, everything from little wooden pedestrian bridges to waterfalls is a new discovery. There is always a new and interesting thing just a little further down the trail. Then, when the points of interest become familiar, it is like visiting an old home and seeing what has changed—except that this particular rock formation or that hidden creek is as much mine as it was the first time. Each visit is an opportunity to remember previous experiences and form new memories.

The most important part of camping for me, though, was time with family. Even if I didn’t realize it at the time, the fond memories I have of camping are because I made those memories with family.

As the Facilitator

Now that I have had a few significant opportunities to take my own children camping, I realize that it is just as much fun as I remembered, but for quite different reasons. As a child, I was a sponge who soaked up information from my dad about how to start a fire, set up a tent, spot animals in the woods or birds in the sky, and the knowledge that sometimes it is okay to leave the trail for a “shortcut” and get seemingly lost.

But now I am the facilitator, the architect of this experience for my own children. It is up to me to set up the narrative and experience of what “camping” with dad is all about. Since I happen to be a graduate student with two jobs, the first thing I made sure was that they got my full attention for every one of their waking hours. And second, I wanted it to be a time of adventure and discovery, fodder for their imaginations.

And now I am the master fire starter, animal spotter, tent setter, and trailblazer. Now I am the one teaching children how to brown their marshmallows for s'mores and identify a good walking stick. Now I’m the one calling out, “follow me!” as I lead them off the trail.[1]

It is a different kind of fun to be the parent, even more fun, I think. Because not only do I enjoy walking the trails and keeping an eye out for woodland and airborne creatures, but I also get to enjoy my kids’ enjoyment. It is a satisfying thing that they would be intrigued by the same things I was and be as excited at cooking a simple meal on the fire as I was. I loved watching them cook their own hot dogs on the sticks I helped them to select.

And now I share a special thing with my own kids that I share with my parents. My oldest is 6. I wonder how many other things become even more fun as I become the facilitator instead of the participant.

[1] I promise that in this specific instance it was an acceptable thing to do as far as park management was concerned.