Lessons From Camping
I don’t get to hang out with my three boys (7, 5 and 3 years old) nearly as much as I’d like. I have friends who rarely see their kids awake accept on their days off, so I can’t complain too much, but still, I relish times like I had this weekend. At 3:30 Friday afternoon, Conner, Micah and I headed down to Belton for a 2 night camping trip with Conner’s cub scout pack. We’ve done a little camping together (see my previous post for a glimpse into how that’s gone) but this was the first time that the three of us headed out of town for such a trip.
I was a little nervous about how Micah would do. He’s only 5 and tends to have second thoughts on more adventurous activities. But, I am happy to say that not only was he fine, we had a fantastic time.
I’ve been reflecting on a few things that happened this weekend…and surprise, surprise, I thought I’d share them here.
We made a deal on the way to the campsite that the boys would help me set up our tent and other stuff before they started running around playing with the other boys. They aren’t really old enough for me to teach them all the intricate details of choosing the perfect camping spot (like how to find where the shade is going to be during the hot part of the day or which direction the wind will be coming from and set up against or with it depending on the expected weather). BUT, they can put tent poles together, help get the stakes in the ground, decide where they want their sleeping bags, etc. I wanted them to have some ownership in the process; I wanted them to feel a sense of pride in our accomplishment, even if that was just setting up a tent that I could set up in the dark.
They did. And it made me happy.
It also made me tired, because the 15 minute process took nearly an hour and I had to count to ten a few times so I didn’t tie them both to a tree. We got the tent set up to my OCD standards, but I had to sacrifice my competitive desire to have my campsite up faster and more efficiently than anyone in a 500 mile radius…because it wasn’t MY campsite, it was OUR campsite. It isn’t a new revelation to me that I have a tendency to want to just do things myself, but afterward, as Micah sat playing happily in the tent he helped “build,” I was reminded why its worth it to swallow my stupid ego and invite others into the process.
Conner and Micah are so different. Conner wanted nothing more than to run and play and fall and run and play and fall with his friends. He was filthy in about 3 minutes.
I love how, even when bigger kids are around, the group tends to follow Conner’s lead. And I love that (for the most part) it isn’t because he’s being bossy. He’s a good kid, full of joy and confidence. When he isn’t trying to play games on your iPhone, he’s right in the middle of whatever excitement there is to be found.
Micah on the other hand just wanted to play in the tent. He looked out the window with his binoculars, he laid on my air mattress and went through my stuff (yeah, that’s right, I brought an air mattress), he sat at the door and did a “radio show” of the kickball game the bigger kids were playing (which btw, was hilarious). He was the epitome of peaceful contentment. Then, when he was ready, he got out of the tent and played kickball…until he discovered that one of the moms had brought bubbles.
That night as we cooked dinner I knew my boys were in for a treat. I had brought the cast-iron grill for my camp stove and had some fresh asparagus and a couple perfectly marinaded, inch-thick elk steaks (thanks to my father-in-law’s hunting prowess and generous sharing spirit). They’d asked for Ramen soup for dinner, which I was also preparing for them. Suffice it to say, few people at the camp were set up to feast as richly as my boys were. Ramen. Steak. Grilled asparagus. And few dads were as excited as I was to shower their kids with such an extravagant banquet.
But, though they’d acted differently earlier in the day, when everything was ready, they were completely uninterested in my delicious offerings…they just wanted those styrofoam cups full of noodles.
I mean, seriously, who doesn’t want to eat steak?
I tried to reason with them. I thought about making them eat what had been cooked. But then I looked at their utterly content Ramen covered faces…and shirts…and laps. Sometimes we get too excited about giving someone something that WE really want – and then get offended when they aren’t as excited as we are. Its not that they are ungrateful…they just want noodle soup.
In the end, I realized that what was most important was that they were eating supper and enjoying it. Besides, this way, I got two steaks. I ate them both.
The next day, after a relatively uneventful night of sleep (which was never a given and thus was eventful itself) we began a day of hikes, dodgeball, lessons about weather and an unexpected nap. In one of our outings Micah had spotted a drink machine which happened to be about as far from our campsite as possible. I didn’t have any change with me but promised we’d see if there was some in the car later. As it turned out, there was a dollar but Micah was starting to get grumpy so I made a deal with him that if he’d lay down and rest for a while we’d go back after and get a soda (he was quite excited about the promise of a cherry coke).
After waiting patiently (mostly) for a couple hours (with a 45 minute nap in the middle) Micah and I began the trek back to the coke machine…which as it turns out, wasn’t working. To his credit he didn’t throw a fit, but by the look of sadness and disappointment you’d have thought he just found out I was selling him to a band of gypsies…
So, I asked him if he’d like to sneak off and secretly roast a marshmallow – that no one else would be getting. Instant relief from the cherry cokeless depression! You should have seen the look on his face as he hid behind a tarp and ate that slightly charred contraband sugar-puff. I know its a little cliche, but sometimes disappointment opens the door for unexpected blessings…and marshmallows.
That night at the pack campfire, Conner was shocked when he was called up in front of the whole group (about 75 folks) while the pack master told everyone about his fundraiser for Japan (which you can read about here). At first he looked excited, then nervous, then incredibly proud as everybody clapped and cheered for my awesome 7 year old…I may have been just a little proud as well.
Afterward, he was so excited he couldn’t stand still. There is difference between doing things for recognition and being unexpectedly recognized for something you’ve done. I hope and pray that Conner will grow up knowing that distinction; cherishing the joy that comes from helping others and continuing to serve for the purpose of serving because you know that “if God were here he would do it”…and getting that very pleasant surprise when you didn’t see the praise coming.
During that same campfire, the boys sang a camp favorite: “Ghost Chickens In the Sky.” Conner doesn’t remember it this way, but that kinda scared him on our first cub scout camping trip…and it had the same effect on Micah. As we walked back to camp, Micah said, “Dad that song was scary. Are there really ghost chickens?” I promised him there weren’t and the song is meant to be funny, not scary.
He was less than convinced.
As I lit our lantern and started getting more marshmallows ready for roasting (this time they were for everyone), he was still scared. The rest of the boys were playing run-around-in-the-dark-and-try-to-break-your-neck. Micah was not among them. I asked if he’d like to sit in the tent while I got our stuff ready. “No, Dad I just want to be with you. Don’t leave me, okay?”
This wasn’t a new experience. Our kids always want us to be with them when they’re scared, but when he reached up and grabbed my hand, I wasn’t even a little frustrated that I had to work one handed. I couldn’t stop thinking about how amazing it was that this little dude who was terrified of ghost chickens swooping out of the sky, felt safer out in the open next to me than in the comfort of the chicken-proof tent that he helped build.
And rightly so, because I’d sooner let those damn chickens peck out my eye-balls than so much as scratch this precious little boy.
We rolled back up to the house around noon on Sunday. We were all dirty, smelly and tired…as we normally are on Sundays at noon…and Tuesdays at three and Fridays at eight.
Now, its 2 am Monday morning. I’m at work, my wife and boys are at home asleep and I can’t help but think that I may possibly be the luckiest man on the planet.