Frozen Echo

This Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, my family and I are holed up in a very scenic mountain lodge for a few days. I really like getting away on this weekend. The weeks after the beginning of the new year can be very dreary, with dark gray skies, the coldest weather of the year, and little to look forward to. Some years I have arranged it so poorly that I didn’t have a day off between Christmas and Memorial Day. But with a long, fun weekend in the snow planned mid January, it helps.

Last year, Adam took the boys skiing and snow-boarding. But we had this run where both kids ended up in the ER in a couple week period from snow sports. Thane broke his wrist, which really bummed out the rest of the winter and halted his nascent basketball career. This year, we planned to arrive right before a major winter storm broke (and leave after it does). So while we toyed with snow sports, we didn’t actually buy any lift tickets.

Yesterday, we lounged around the hotel, swam in the heated outdoor pool, and played lots of role-playing games. We took a midday trip on still clear roads to North Conway, where Adam and I enjoyed some time in some art galleries looking for pieces for our attic, while Grey enjoyed the practical joke section of the Five and Dime store there. He fell in love with a coffee shop that specialized in coffee, art, sarcastic sayings and jazz.

Scenic gaming location

Today, after the epic brunch the hotel is famous for, the boys played their role playing game for several hours. They’re deep into an adventure. With all this unexpected time on my hands, I started live-tweeting my reading of Steven’s “A History of Stoneham, Mass” from a beautiful copy given to me by a friend. I also – and this is epic – finished my draft of the book I’ve been working on for over three years. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the finished draft is about 44k words. Apparently that’s not really novel length. So either I’ve written a novelette (no market) a teen novel (not really) or I need to find more story to tell. Or it’s just unpublishable, which is the most likely outcome, but one likes to pretend there’s hope.

The shores of Echo Lake

In the bright light of afternoon, with 17 degree weather, we all put on our warmest layers and buckled on our snowshoes (thanks mom!) for a walking adventure. Although I’ve seen Echo Lake many times and know exactly where it is and it’s very near this resort I’ve stayed in often… I’ve never been. There’s a trail down from the resort, and we broke new snow. It felt like a foot of new powder, although it had switched over to ice pellets by that time. The lake itself was frozen hard – hard enough even for the most cautious of parents to be unafraid of their beloved children walking on it. And from the lake, perhaps no surprise, there is a remarkable echo.

If I didn’t know this was a lake, it would be hard to tell

Snow shoeing is quite a tiring activity. Right now Adam’s asleep, Thane is bopping around and Grey is working on a school project (theoretically). The snow continues to fall outside, and we have nowhere we need to be and nothing we need to do. Bliss indeed!

White Horse Ledge

Grind their bones

This is been an interesting winter for skiing in New England. On Christmas Day, a hearty foot plus of snow fell on the region, and skiiers rejoiced. Right after they finished their figgy pudding, to the slopes! But mere hours after the snow came the cold. Bitter cold.

Last year this time, we planned a weekend trip to the White Mountains. The original weekend has ended up being the installation weekend for our new pastor – so that was out. I moved it to the weekend right after New Years. But as the forecast unfolded, the very day the boys would’ve been hitting the slopes was also the day of record-breaking cold. If these were the temperatures in Boston, next to the water, what would they look like in the mountains of New Hampshire? Not skiing weather, for sure.

Past bitter to dangerous

I figured there were some big upsides from pushing it back to the long weekend. On the downside, it was a bit more expensive to get the rooms, and they weren’t as nice. But an extra day! That’s definitely worth something. And the record cold was supposed to clear out.

What I didn’t figure was the record warm we got to end the week last week. It was 60. Then, over a thirty hour period, it dropped a degree and a half every hour. In the morning we had the windows open. By bedtime it was hovering near single digits. And raining – hard. I’d been afraid of the flash-freeze impact on the roads when I planned our drive up for Friday after work. But the temperatures held. What I didn’t anticipate, because I’d never seen it before, was what the warm rains on the so-frozen snows did to the drive. We went through nearly 100 miles of the densest fog I’ve ever seen in New England. This was San Francisco fog; Central Valley fog. There were times when I had to slow to 10 miles an hour to not overdrive the few feet of visibility I had, clinging to the reflective center line of the road like a lifeline. The fog moved fast, skittering across the road as though chased by some unseen horror. The periodic rips in the fog-cloth only served to show us just how dense it really was. There were a few times where I held my breath as we left some brief intermission of the clouds only to slam again into a near solid-wall of mist. I’ve never seen anything even close to that before. New England fog clings to low-lying spots and is elusive. This was anything but.

I arrive at the hotel as white-knuckled as I’d been LAST year when we drove up through a snow storm. Life lesson – you should never plan a vacation at the same time and place I do.

Saturday was a complete loss for outdoor activities. It was just too wet. The ski resorts lost TWO FEET of snow in just two days. I’m sure they’re tearing their hair out. It was un-ski-able, and several of them closed. We read books, played role-playing games, hung out in the hot tub, watched Jurassic Park on cable (OMG the commercials!), I got a massage and enjoyed the Patriot’s game. But I didn’t step off the hotel grounds all day.

Today was at least cold. A little too cold – teens. But the resorts were open and making snow and by gum, we’re New Englanders now.

That last part is actually a good bit of why I work so hard to make the snow sports happen. I never skied growing up, despite living in striking distance of two of Washington’s greatest ski areas. My father is legally disabled with a knee injury. My mother is a California girl. There was no one who would’ve brought us, and we never went. So the very first time I ever strapped on skis in college, on the very first slope I ever went down, I didn’t do it well. In fact, within the first few turns I snapped my ACL, and have been struggling with the consequences ever since. But instead of concluding that “skiing is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs” I’ve instead decided “if you don’t pick up skiing when you’re young and you bounce then you better never try it”. And since I’m raising New Englanders, I’m bound and determined to do a proper job of it.

Plus, I’ve had this fantasy for years now of having choreless hours to myself with this as my muse:

Dining room view
White Horse Ledge view

I’d finally finish my book. I’d write brilliant blog posts that would go viral. I’d read a book. I’d pray. I’d read poetry and feel it. I’d read history and live it. I’d rest: body, soul and mind. Such daydreams we have! To digress on my active fantasy life, in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series most inns have a library. In my daydreams (alas, not in reality) this incredibly beautiful hotel has one too, on the third floor, with a killer view, where I could sit and read quietly or write or think. It doesn’t, and the public areas are more, uh, golfy than bookish. But still I dream.

My daydreams got off to a great start this morning! We had the famous brunch. I drove the boys to Attitash and pushed them out of the car. “Bye guys!” Then I hightailed it back to the hotel to brew coffee, stare out the window, and write the next major scene in my long-neglected novel. Heck, it’s the penultimate scene. I’m almost there. After about 2000 words, I decided to exercise both mind and body and put on my work out gear. This is the first time in the history of me I’ve actually followed through one of my resolutions to run while on vacation. I’d really like to do a serious hike this summer, so I have motivation to get fit.

I’d been on for about 3 minutes when I got a call from Adam. “Thane fell and hurt his wrist. We’re going to talk to the medical folk and see what they think.” I only had time to just start regretting my 6 mph pace when I got another call, “He needs to go for xrays at the hospital.” It is, perhaps, a blessing to be in the right place to take your child to the hospital yourself. Last time I got a call that my son had hurt himself on the slopes… you remember, a week before Christmas? (It was Grey. He fell on his head. He’s fine.) I’d been 3.5 hours away and had to trust my friend who’d taken him, and then my husband to pick him up. I high-tailed it to retrieve my child, and a sorry state he looked. He had this massive sling encompassing his right arm.

The local hospital deal with so many skiing patients they return the splits to the ski resort listed on a regular basis. They have codes for which mountain you hurt yourself on.

The hospital was close and *very* well set up to deal with out-of-staters with skiing injuries. In a hilarious turn of events, while waiting with my son I got a LinkedIn message from a former coworker who had worked with me years ago. His daughter had a rather more serious leg injury in the room across the hall. It was a weird place to catch up, but we did so anyway!

Anyway, while we waited I watched Thane use his hand. I figured it definitely wasn’t broken. It might not even be much of a sprain! He had good range of motion, was tolerating the pain well, and didn’t see THAT bothered. There was little bruising or swelling, and he can move his fingers, turn his hands and be touched. But then when he went in for xrays I saw a … wrinkle in a bone where it didn’t look like there should be one. I am no doctor, and I had trouble making out the ultrasounds that proved he was a male issue, so I didn’t put too much credit on it. But I began to doubt.

I’m struck by how big he looks here

In a remarkably short amount of time we were having a conversation with a nice (and very experienced in snowboarding injury) doctor. It’s a buckle fracture. Thane has a splint to prevent him from moving it too much. Ibuprofen for pain. And a followup prescribed with his PCP and probably orthopedist. But he may only have to wear the splint for a week or two. It’s about as unserious as a broken wrist can be. I took him out to his first ever Taco Bell, and then we picked up his brother and father.

He was very excited to win his bet with me about the nature of the injury

The slopes were apparently treacherous today – a sturdy remnant of ice limned by a bare modesty of created snow. Adam says it’s the worst he’s ever skied on. He feels guilty for bringing his son there to be injured. We both feel badly about basketball. Thane’s been doing SO WELL on the courts lately, and he has an amazing coach this year. I’d venture this is at least a two week outage on the courts. Given that it’s his dominant shooting/dribbling hand, maybe more. Thane was a trooper the whole way through. He’s so sturdy and reliable and tough.

I “treated his pain” by playing a bunch of Plants vs. Zombies mini games while he offered expert advice. But when the time came to turn out the lights and go to sleep, the whimpering began. The pain had broken through (I was probably late offering his next dose of Ibuprofen, but during the video games he wasn’t feeling any pain). And he was thinking through the implications. How would he be able to write in school? How long would he be forced to wear this uncomfortable brace? How could he sleep with it? He was, for the first time he could remember, broken and unmendable. He was away from home, and it was dark, and he had a broken wrist.

Thus, in the end, we all confront our brokenness and fears and not all the love in the world can wipe them away. May all your healing in times to come be as fast and complete as this one will be, my sweet son.

Broken, but healing

Camping with kids in the 21st century

The last camping trip we undertook was, as I said, a Fine and Pleasant misery. Near constant rain, freezing temperatures and winds conspired to keep us damp, cold and in the tent or the car for most of the trip.

This is what bliss looks like
This is what bliss looks like

This trip, a mere four weeks later, could hardly be more different. The temperatures were literally double Memorial Day, making gentle waves between 90 and 65. We had a spectacular time this trip. For the first time maybe ever we just stayed in the camp and went swimming and sat around and generally had a superb time. (Well, except for our trip to go see Despicable Me II, which the boys thought was hilarious and which Adam and enjoyed enough.) All in all, this camping trip was one of the most enjoyable we’ve ever had as a family.

Last time I went camping, a number of my friends and readers mentioned that they’d love to hear how one goes about camping these days. (Ok, so maybe that was one person… but it totally counts, right?) Having once again read far too much McManus this trip, I’d be happy to offer my expertise on the topic.

I was trying to remember why I decided to go camping the first time. I mean, I’ve loved camping since I was a little girl. I remember camping when I was five and my mother was pregnant with my brother. I loved wandering the woods, building dams in mountain streams. I loved the sound of the zipper on the tent, the patter of pine needles on the canvas roof. But for reasons that escape me, Adam and I did very little camping while we were unchilded. I think I thought I was too busy, when in fact I was just prioritizing wrong. I was also, in truth, still a total snob about East Coast vs. West Coast mountains and disdained the mountains and woods that were available to me.

But likely the summer I was pregnant with Thane I realized that this was it. This was my life. I lived in New England. I owned a house. And if I wanted to go camping with my kids, I would need to go camping in New England. My longing for backpacking as a family, of reading by the stream while their feet went numb and they built a dam, would only happen if we actually went camping.

Actually taken two days before the famous "dance class" picture
Actually taken two days before the famous “dance class” picture

Thane was 7 months old the first time we went camping as a family. I, more or less at random, picked White Lake State Park for our trip. It had facilities (a bathroom, running water), it was a reasonable drive for us, and it had a very highly rated beach. I figured it was as good a start as any. That first camping trip, I don’t think we had any chairs. We brought the pack ‘n’ play for baby Thane. We bought a cheap tent at Target (which I loved, by the way, until it died a good death this year). We froze because I didn’t bring nearly enough blankets. It was tough to work camping around naps and babies and lack of expertise. But yet, somehow, we kept coming back. Nearly every trip back, Adam and I review the trip and make notes on what we should do differently next time. We’ve gotten to a point now where it is pretty optimized and all we need to do is make adjustments for the particular time of year and the boys’ stages in life.

This year we attempted fishing.
This year we attempted fishing.

So… if you, dear friend with small children, were thinking about camping, what would I recommend?

First of all, gear. We have always had insufficient car space to take all the gear I’d like to take. I joke that our camping trips are equivalent to a space shuttle launch, in terms of our careful choice and selection of gear. The absolute minimum requirements are: a tent, an air mattress for the grownups, a chair for each person. Chairs are unexpectedly key; trust me. Most of the rest of the gear is small and/or optional. It’s definitely wise to have a light source per person and a knife. My husband will add that you should have roughly a thousand feet of rope and three tarps – definitely preferable if it rains. Tents start to leak under sustained precipitation. Then there are the nice-to-haves: table cloths, wood-shop class name plates (I don’t have one and confess to actually wanting one. I have years to go until my sons take woodshop though. I wonder if Boston suburbs actually teach woodshop?) Finally, approximately a thousand toys, which should be doled out to children gradually over the trip.

Food is actually a challenge. I have no problem planning breakfast. First morning: eggs and bacon. Second morning: pancakes and bacon. Third morning: instant oatmeal. Lunches can be managed with a loaf or two of bread, cold cuts, cheese, peanut butter and jam. Pretzels, cheese sticks, apples and snack foods fill out the lunch. Oreos and smores are the traditional desserts. Dinners, though. Dinners are tough. Usually we have hot dogs/sausages the first night. I tried hamburgers, but they never turn out tasty. Sometimes I’ll bring a soup – either a frozen stew I made ahead of time, or two cans of some sort of Campell’s. But usually I only plan on eating at the campsite for half the time – the rest of the time we’ll eat out.

Next summer I bet Thane will be reading too
Next summer I bet Thane will be reading too

And that’s one of the secrets of my brand of camping: we don’t stay at the campsite most of the time. We go on “Car walks” up the Kancamagus Highway. We go climb a local (small) mountain. We drive to North Conway or Lincoln for various excuses. (Starbucks!) We visited Mt. Washington and the Polar Caves. We bring our food with us, so we can stop and make our lunch wherever we find ourselves. But it’s nice to go to a nice clean restaurant and have dinner out. These car walks started, I think, because Thane had so much trouble napping in a tent and so much less trouble napping in a car seat. (A fact that remains true even today. Someone is snoozing in the back seat as I write, which would not be true if we were at the site.)

So one secret to camping with small children is to not be a purist. Our camp site has lovely amenities. It also has full cell phone coverage. We eat out while camping. We watch movies. We have digital devices, although we try to save them for times when there is not too much opportunity lost.

Key: build traditions. Have a favorite diner you stop at on your way down. (Like Miss Wakefield’s.) Stop by a little roadside stand. Have a favorite hike, or cookie, or campfire song. Have a set of toys that are sacred to camping. It takes very few times to have something become a tradition when you have small kids. Three times is plenty.

Our Miss Wakefield ritual is down to the exact parking spot
Our Miss Wakefield ritual is down to the exact parking spot

Finally: Starbucks Via is a great way of getting your morning coffee. Just putting that out there.

So how about you? Do you go camping? Are you horrified at how many compromises I’ve made to pure camping? Are you horrified at the thought of coin-operated showers? Have you found a great way to bring your kids camping? (Or your spouse?) Do you aspire to go camping? Do you have any logistical questions I have failed to address?

A Fine and Pleasant Misery, part 2

“The rollicking old fireside songs originated in the efforts of other campers to drown out the language of the cook and prevent it from reaching the ears of little children. Meat roasted over a campfire was either raw or extra well done, but the cook usually came out medium rare.”

Patrick McManus – A Fine and Pleasant Misery

On Monday, the weather finally relented. My brother had arrived the previous night, along with darkness. I had visions of sneaking off to go hike Mt. Chocorua, which has been mocking me incessantly since we turned back half a mile from the summit for some lame reasons like, “Running out of water”, “Thunderstorms approaching” and “Knee desperately needs surgery for major tendon tears”. But there was a mass mutiny by the menfolk at the though of it, so I compromised.

In the shadow of the granite mountains

We decided to do the Boulder Loop Trail, which was marked at 3 miles, and moderate. I have to remember that the person who rated the trails in my guidebook is a sadist, who definitely never hiked the trails with a four year old. The hike became even more exciting when the folks at the front of the trail, too absorbed in discussions, failed to keep with the trail and we accidentally headed on a path designed to take us straight up the granite cliff faces.

I fell – with my camera and my youngest child – and the pictures stop at this point. Oh, I took another two hundred and fifty… the camera works fine. But somehow those two hundred and fifty are not ON the memory card. I know they got written because the ID has incremented, and I’d used digital filters on some. I had given them up for lost, but when I was whining about it last night one of my friends who works with digital recovery volunteered to see if they were really gone, so hope remains. The camera mysteriously began working again as we left White Lake.

Anyway, it wasn’t a LONG fall, but it was enough to point out to us that perhaps we were not on the right path. We did eventually rediscover our route and the path, but the rest of it took on the aspect of a bit of a forced march for the littlest one. Coupled with his complete lack of fear of heights … (I wish I could show you want that meant, suffice it to say we were very high and the fall was very long) … it was not a restful hike. But it was fun! And we did it! And Grey hardly complained at all!

That night, we finally could sit around the campfire. We sang songs, quoted poems, and read some McManus aloud to great hilarity. Grey stayed awake, from the tent, for much of the McManus. I’m hopeful from the chortling within the tent that the great man’s wisdom might transfer to yet another generation. There were stars to be seen on the walk to and from the Sanitation Center.

The traditional first and last stop of the camping trip

Tuesday, as we broke camp, was some of the finest weather I’ve seen in many a day. It was sixty-five, clement and bright. Perfect. I tried to console myself, as we folded the barely-soggy tarps, that this made the breaking up that much easier to do. But in truth, it had finally gotten good, and so it was time to go.

Today, a weekend later, we have a heatwave going on, with temperatures above 90 for three days in a row. And I find myself wondering, WHERE WAS THIS WHEN I WAS NEXT TO A LAKE!??! But looking back on my adventures, I’m forced to conclude… it was indeed a Fine and Pleasant Misery.

I can’t wait to go again!

Again, you can see what pictures remain of the trip here.

A fine and pleasant misery

“Modern technology has taken most of the misery out of the outdoors. Camping now is aluminum-covered, propane-heated, foam-padded, air-conditioned, bug-proofed, flip-topped, disposable and transistorized. Hardship on a modern camping trip is blowing a fuse on your electric underwear, or having the battery peter out on your Porta-Shaver. A major catastrophe is spending your last coin on a recorded Nature Talk and then discovering that Camp Comfort and Sanitation Center (featuring forest green tile floors and hot showers) has pay toilets.

“There are many people around nowadays who seem to appreciate the fact that a family can go on an outing without being out. But I am not one of them. Personally, I miss the old-fashioned misery of old-fashioned camping.”

Patrick McManus – A Fine and Pleasant Misery

Below the deluge

Gazing over the scene on Saturday morning, I gazed around contentedly. “Patrick,” I thought, “Patrick would be proud of me now.” Mr. McManus was quite an influence on my young mind. He and I had briefly lived in the same part of the country: his high school football team had played against the town my brother had been born in. But I had been an itinerant through Idaho’s panhandle, and he. Well, he belonged there. But it was from Patrick that I learned that it was the nature of a rope to be 6 inches too short. Patrick taught me that any time my husband asks for some expensive hobby gear, the right answer is always, “At least he doesn’t like bass fishing”. I have learned from this old sage from the time I was about Grey’s age and found a stack of his books in my grandfather’s cabin in the woods of Washington State.

But the last few years, I felt like I’d been letting old Pat down. I mean, White Lake State Park is a nice campground. Far too nice. I mean, the Sanitation center has flush toilets and coin operated showers! Running water! A nice little store. You can get pizza delivered, for heaven’s sake. And we sleep on an air mattress. I can feel his disappointment from here.

This camping trip, though, I was making up for it. I stood under a patchwork of tarps, held together by a labrynthine network of ropes that were all 6 feet too long (my husband likes to do things with his own flair). The rain made an incessant, staccato beat – drowning out the call of the loons. The wind was picking up, driving the sheets of water further under the tarp. And it was about fifty degrees, but the forecast called for it to get cold soon. All in all, it was a fine and pleasant misery, and I was content. I puttered around, humming, “It is Well With My Soul”, deeply satisfied.

When I made reservations last year, I accidentally made the Memorial Day reservation an extra day. Gazing at dreariness of November, I figured that was just the thing. I imagined lolling by the lake, regaling each other in front of the fire and perhaps even practicing my guitar and being discovered as an astonishing new talent. I kept the five days, and took Tuesday as a vacation day. As Memorial day crept closer and closer, I started getting nervous. It looked a little soggy and cool. But, I reasoned, it had rained every camping trip of the first year we went camping, when Thane was nine months old. I bought better-rated sleeping bags and cast my faith on the Lord.

This wasn’t accurate. It got colder than that, and rained more.

And lo, it wasn’t as bad as it had looked a few days prior. No, it was much worse. Saturday was horrific by camping standards. It was about 50 degrees and bucketing. One began to worry about flooding. We didn’t have a tarp over the fire, so breakfast that morning was courtesy of Dunkin’ Donuts. “Hey boys!” I called. “Let’s go swimming!!!” “Moooooooom! Stop lying!” “Nope. Go get your swim suits.”

Well, what Patrick McManus doesn’t know won’t hurt him.

It cost a bundle, but it was worth it to be warm.

We went to Kahuna Laguna up in North Conway. It was actually very fun. I discovered that thanks to his swimming lessons during afterschool, Grey was now a good enough swimmer to be released on his own recognizance in a controlled environment with lifeguards, so we did just that. This left one grownup able to pursue their own agenda. The fourteen year old boys running the fastest water slide started giving me a funny look after my fourth run… but what good is it being a grownup if you can’t run the big, fast waterslide?

After three or so hours of swimming, Thane started crying because his foot hurt. Now, if you know Thane you know that broken bones would most likely be shrugged off in the right circumstance, so this was suspicious. He was presented with chicken fingers, which he verbally disdained. Then he bolted three of them, slurped down 10 ounces of lemonade, and collapsed on me solidly asleep. I held his incredibly tall, strong, long, active boyness for over an hour, losing sensation in various body parts. And I thought as I held my golden-haired son, quiet on my lap, that this was very likely the last time one of my sons would ever sleep in my arms. Long-lashes against ruddy cheek, I did not begrudge the failing circulation in my legs for the gift of that last time – known and recognized.

That night, Adam and I played BattleLine on the picnic table – cold and far from the fire that spit against the falling rain. The peace of our evening was only periodically disturbed by having to yell at the kids to GO TO SLEEP ALREADY twenty or so times.

Having fun together – regardless of location – since 2007.

Finally, the weather turned the next day. Yes, it started getting windy and dropped to about 45 degrees. Leveraging un-Patrick-approved powers of technology (indeed, one of my friends started making fun of my Facebook updates of misery), I arranged to meet our next door neighbors from home at the Meredith Children’s Museum. Now, this museum might not seem like a great museum to someone without children. But here’s the thing… there were NO SIGNS telling you what not to do. Instead, everything was fair game for kids to play with. And oh they did! The Rube Goldberg Room, the Castle Room, the Bubbles and Puzzles room. It was GREAT. It was full of things that actually appealed to kids, instead of things that appeal to grownups misunderstandings of kids. I’m definitely adding it to our list of things to do when it rains.

Even the bigger kids really got into parts of it.

We went out to lunch afterwards. Grey and his best friend wandered off by themselves. We found them playing cards together, and just left them to it. Who knew they played cards? Thank you, afterschool, for teaching them useful things!

I’m not even sure what the game was!

That night, returning to our campsite, we luxuriated in the tarp over the fire, which helped to more efficiently direct smoke into our car. The rain had also discovered a new trip and was coming in sideways. One thing I love about camping is how you get to bed so early! 9 pm!

To be continued…

If you want to see pictures, I’ve uploaded some here: A portion of the pictures

The moment I’d been waiting for

Three years ago this weekend
Three years ago this weekend

Thane has gone camping every summer of his life. He was born in October, and by the time his first May rolled around I decided that it was time to go camping! (As an aside: why did we NOT go camping for the 5 summers between graduation and having kids? What was I so busy doing? It’s a mystery.) I trundled the kids (and the pack ‘n’ play!) into a car and by gum, we went camping. His first camping trip was at nine months. We went camping when he was 18 months. And 27 months.

Two years ago - at 1.75, 4.75 and 33.75 years of age
Two years ago – at 1.75, 4.75 and 33.75 years of age

Last summer, my dearest husband and I began to wonder if we even liked camping (the answer being – we definitely like it by ourselves!) It was tough camping with such little kids. And as much as I love camping, it did require toughing. At 9 months, Thane wasn’t – you know – sleeping through the night. When he was 1, he would wake up at 5:45 hungry and bored. At 2, he still so desperately needed his naps and had such a miserable time taking them. There were the diapers. The constant vigilance. The sleep deprivation. The whining. By an objective measure, it wasn’t really… you know… fun. The kids were too small to swim unless we were physically holding them. Too small to go boating. Too small to go fishing. Too small to go for more than a mile-long leisurely hike. Too small to make them do the dishes. Sometimes camping was refreshing, or satisfying. There were glorious moments. It broke the tedium of every day the same. But by the time it was pack-up time, we were really ready to go.

Thane at 2+. I miss those golden curls.
Thane at 2+. I miss those golden curls.

But I had faith that if I just toughed it out, camping with my sons would eventually be awesome. I mean, I love camping. I love the tent. I love the smell of woodsmoke. I love the call of the loons on the lake. I love lying in a dewing field watching the stars come out. I love finding sticks for kindling, swimming, hiking, reading and discovering cool spiderwebs. I mean, isn’t this what having boys is supposed to be all about, this ecstasy of outdoorsiness? All I had to do was get to that moment – that trip – where it all clicked.

And folks, I’m here to tell you THIS WAS IT. We went camping this last weekend, and it was awesome. The weather was awesome. By dint of making reservations in January, we had a truly amazing camping spot. And the kids were so fun. We skipped naps. The kids slept until 8 am. They paid attention to our “how to make a fire” lecture. They entertained themselves. Grey rode a bike without training wheels for the first time. He read a chapter book. Thane used his “playing quietly by himself” skills. Grey swam without flotation devices, made friends, and periodically wandered back to the campsite to check in. Thane went the entire weekend without any potty training accidents. My sons summitted their first mountain (Black Cap Peak). It was just great. I sat by the fire, watching the water, listening to the loons on the lake, hanging out contentedly at the beach, and eating all the s’mores myself because for some reason my crazy children don’t like s’mores.

I’m sure not every camping trip will be this awesome, but this one really was. So for those of you wondering when it’s a good age to bring your kids camping… I vote for 3 and 9 months.

Learning how to make fire
Learning how to make fire

Here are some of the pictures from this trip

Camping, Round II

Last year, summer was replaced by several months of late April. I recall one or two blessed moments of warmth, between rain storms, but the camping last year was heavy on tarps and light on swimming. This year, so far, the weather has been fantastic!

I recall last year, when Thane was a 9 month old patiently accompanying us in his stroller, thinking that this was the hardest camping would be — it would never be so hard again. HA! My youngest child, delight of my heart, is a fantastic sleeper with one caveat: only when he is at home in his own bed an his own circumstances. Given the novelty of a bed where moving around is possible, he took full advantage of his liberty in order to not sleep.

Howdy howdy howdy. I'm a cowboy.
Howdy howdy howdy. I'm a cowboy.

Example Scene:
-Thane is obviously tired: eye-rubbing, cranky and easily upset
-Mom reads Thane several books, lays him gently on the air mattress, gives him Puppy and says “night night”!
-Thane looks angelic, thumb in his mouth with his hand wrapped around Puppy’s ear. (Note: Puppy is a rabbit. Ours is not to question why….)
-Thane lets out a deep sigh of contentment and says, blissed out, “Puppy”
-Mom leaves the tent (nearly tripping) certain that Thane will now go to sleep like he would in his bed
-A voice emerges as she zips up, “Mama?”
-More insistent “Mama? Mama. Mama! MAMA!!!!!”
-A Thane-shape appears outlined in the green nylon of the tent “MAAAAMAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!”
-Mom returns to the tent. Tucks Thane in with puppy. He gives an angelic sigh and sucks his thumb…. rinse and repeat. For several hours.

On the fourth of July, he got up at around 5:45 and caught only about half an hour’s nap. He stayed up until after the fireworks… nearly 11 pm. This from a kid who usually wakes up around 6:15, takes a 2.5 hour nap between 1 – 3:30 and goes to bed at 7:15 sharp (or you pay for it).

But other than the complete and utter lack of sleeping children, we had an awesome time camping. We’ve gone with the boys five times now? At five times, your traditions start to feel like real traditions. You begin to be an old hand. There are ways you “usually do things”.

Camping boys
Camping boys

One of the neatest parts of this particular camping trip is that it marks the first time Grey has been part of a kid-herd. These phenomenon, a relic of simpler times, have more or less disappeared from suburban neighborhoods (at least mine). On either side of our campsite was a gaggle of children, roughly Grey’s age. Both gaggles invited him to tag along. So for hours at a time I could SEE him, but he was over there, playing with the other kids, swapping silly bands and playing those imaginative games I remember so fondly from my youth. It was wonderful to have him safe, making friends, and playing outside (while I attempted to keep Thane from launching head-first into the fire or eating the Cheerios he’d dropped on the ground).

We did a lot of swimming this last time, since the weather was perfect for it. It’s a nerve-wracking time. When *I* was 4 I knew how to swim, or at least well enough. I didn’t have swimming lessons until I was 9 or so, but I recall being perfectly happy in the water, even when my feet didn’t touch. Grey isn’t there – not at all. We did swimming lessons last summer, but we missed half of them because we were camping. (Ah! Irony!) So we figured this year we’d wait until fall. In the interim, though, we keep Grey very close. Thane, in his continuing quest to give us gray hair, loves the following water sports: flinging yourself backwards until your ears are under water, falling down in the water (forward – allows you to see if your arms are long enough to reach the ground AND keep your mouth above water), falling down in the water (backward – babies have no core strength and really can’t do a “situp”), eel-imitation, and sand-eating. Also, taking whatever toys are unguarded on the shore.

There were notably fewer calm and relaxing swims out to the bouys this time than there were last summer.

Our big “car walk” this trip was up to Mt. Washington. I would hereby like to apologize for all my snide Northwest superiority regarding our mountains. I have long felt that any mountain you could drive up was no mountain. Then I drove the road up Mt. Washington. Now, I’m an experienced mountain driver. I grew up on car-commercial roads. But the 16% grades and no guard rails… well. Actually, I’m not so sure that’s a new experience (I remember particularly vividly a trip we took up to some Lion rock or some such thing up a one-lane logging road that had recently had a washout…. and let’s not even discuss the state of the road last time I went up Llad pass), but it was a rather daunting one. And Mt. Washington is pretty extreme. We went on a very, very hot day — temperatures in the mid-80s to low 90s. At the windswept top of the mountain it was about 50. And there was snow. So I’ll admit it. It’s a real mountain.

Adam & the boys at the top of New England
Adam & the boys at the top of New England

On my way back down, pausing to cool the brakes, I had the momentary thought that maybe, just maybe, on this adventure so like my childhood adventures (see also: Llad Pass) I was the first Johnstone to do this very-Johnstoneish trip. I reveled in the thought that there was a crazy, mountainous adventure that I got to first. Then I called my parents, “Yeah, that’s quite a road isn’t it?”

I should’ve known better.

The boys and me at the same spot
The boys and me at the same spot - the hat does move around!

It was a wonderful time. I really like camping. I like being out in the woods. I like resetting my view of the world. I like the depth and breadth of time I spend with my family. And I like cooking everything in bacon grease. I would really like to find some “camping buddies” — folks who wanted to share those bacon-grease cooked eggs, or who can handle a s’more with the best of them. Ideally, perhaps, someone with a few kids so we could have a built-in gaggle. (Also because anyone without kids would likely be really annoyed at the stuff it’s hard to do while camping AND be a responsible parent of young children.)

And this is obviously the hardest time of life to go camping. Next year? Will definitely be easier.

Next year, just wait mom!
Next year, just wait mom!