You know those families that go out into the woods for fun as a vacation? We’ve become those wholesome people. We just did two weekends of camping in a row: one with the Scouts, and then another at Frost Valley YMCA, a camp up in the Catskills. At the first, we slept in a small tent all together. At the second, we slept in something more akin to a retro hotel room. I may be Wilderness Mommy, but I do enjoy sleeping on a mattress Ina warm room.
I take a lot of pride in the camping trips I run with the Otters. I have built so much of that group, and I’m never prouder of the accomplishment than I am at camp. Seeing two dozen happy kids (27 Otters total, including my own) engaged in free play, who have all totally forgotten that screens even exist, is amazing. I love seeing my own son tearing around a campsite with his buddies, too, being a forest creature, Ben is so happy at camp, and I’m so happy I was able to be part of building the Scout group that gives him that experience.
And this camp, we also accomplished a lot. We learned songs! We reviewed lashing skills and the. built obstacle courses using sticks and rope! We practiced skits! We sang more songs! We washed dishes! We made wind chimes! We had a tug of war! We hiked for miles and cooked hot dogs over a fire and had a feast at dinner. It was, without question, our Best Camp Ever, with a solid mix of structured activities and free run-around-in-forest time.
High points included:
– the “camp den” names. I divide the kids up into “camp dens” at camp, since there’s rarely even distribution from their regular dens. They then get to name themselves. That’s how we ended up with the Warriors (an all girl den of second graders), the Rock-Climbing Corvettes (they couldn’t decide between Rock Climbers and Corvettes), the Legal Eagles (who all got disbarred and became the Illegal Eagles) and the Zombie Den (the littles kids, who I guess like zombies). All awesome names. Good work, kids.
– chore time! This is not a highlight for the kids. This is a highlight for me as a leader to see six year olds washing dishes with minimal complaint. When the Zombie Den was on dishwashing, one little boy looked up at me at the last meal and remarked, “Even the littlest kids can do the biggest work”. Parents whose kids learned how to wash dishes? YOU’RE WELCOME
– community time! To heck with my son hanging out with his friend, I want to go to camp to hang out with MY friends. I like all the parents I get to camp with, so going to camp is fun for me as an individual, not just as a mother.
-hike time! I hiked two and a half miles. Ben and Paul hiked almost FOUR. Ben apparently sang camp songs with a buddy for the back half of that hike, too (I was leading the rest of the short hike group back to camp). My kid loves hiking. I’m so proud.
So that was the weekend of then17th to 19th. This weekend, we re-packed up our warm clothes and headed to Frost Valley. This is a summer camp in the Catskills built on an old family estate. We stayed in a hotel style room, but we could have stayed in cabins or, had we been a group, a lodge. The place is huge, and full of activities: climbing wall, archery, hiking, pond discovery (aka Lets catch Salamanders), zip lines, open spaces for games, and a dining hall with board games after supper. This was a special Halloween theme weekend, so there was also a Halloween party for the little kids on the Saturday night (My son wore his Yoda ears with jeans and a T-shirt. He is SO his father’s kid).
Unlike the weekend before, this was just us at camp. There were other families like us, but really, this was our time together. I’ve been on the road so much lately that I just wanted to spend the time with Paul and Ben. And this is now What We Do as a family: we go on hikes, and then come home to drink herbal tea and play board games. There was no TV in the room, there was no set schedule or place to be outside of mealtimes, there was just us, in the mountains, for a weekend. (of course, Ben and I watched the latest episode of Top Chef Boston on the way home. I’m not that anti-screen)
I feel like I should balance this out somewhere with a weekend of debauchery: drinking and bar hopping in the East Village, going to a speakeasy on a Saturday night, going to a dance party somewhere (shouldnt Bootie be back by now?). But although I have Halloween partying this Friday, I can’t stay out late like I used to. It’s either stay out late with my friends or spend the time with my son. It’s either go out into Manhattan on a Saturday, or spend that evening decompressing at home with my husband. If I’m out late, it throws off the next day, and those days belong to the little boy I don’t see for more than a few minutes in the mornings and evenings from Monday to Friday.
And hence the sheer simplicity of going out into the forest as a family, and being all wholesome about it. When I’m in a camp environment, I don’t think about the rest of my existence: I am very much in the moment. And when I’m there with Paul and Ben, that’s a moment I’m in with them. And that’s something I can carry with me, even when I’m away from them, even when I’m caught up in the million tasks that make up my day.