I wrote a column not too long ago that dealt with raising boys. I rather enjoyed writing it. It was like reminding myself of what I needed to do with my own children, as I strive on a daily basis to be a good father. It was almost like writing it to myself as a to-do list—a reminder, or mantra, to read and repeat over and over so I do not forget what I need to do.
I also received a lot of feedback from you all, the readers, which was great. God only knows I can use all the help I can get in raising them. One important piece of feedback I received was that the list applied to girls, too. KimberyHilton, TexGrl, Pamlful, and Maiingankwe all reinforced this in their comments. The latter wrote, “I have been teaching my daughter these lessons for as long as she can remember.”
She is right. The same lessons apply to my step-daughter, and all girls, as well as to my sons and step-son. Point taken willingly and thankfully.
I also learned some additional lessons that I should have included on the list, such as “use your words” (FKA_Erin), “love your mother!” (bandanana), and “learn how to cook” (mickmcfarts). I hear all you all’s words, and advice, and I thank you for it. Although, Mr. Mcfarts, you might want to exercise greater judgement, in future, in creating your monikers.
Anyway, in the same vain as that previous post on raising boys, I wanted to throw out another for your consideration. This time, I am recommending that all of you parents, guardians, grandparents, big brothers, and big sisters take your kids camping. Unplug your phones, tablets, and gaming systems, pack up your ruck, load up some food and water, head out of the city limits, find a state or national park, and get outside.
It is cliche at this point to lament the sad fact that we are too wired-in and insular in our modern existence. Cliche, but true. As a society, we have so many more temptations keeping us away from the outdoors than ever existed before. We have smartphones, high definition televisions, game consoles that are about as realistic as you can imagine, websites in the millions (including this one!), and coffee shops on every corner.
It is not hard to imagine the common person only coming into contact with nature through a walk to their car, mowing the lawn every other Saturday, or on the way into the newest indoor trampoline park or bouncy house (if you have kids, like me).
Well, it is time to carve out some more direct, meaningful, and prolonged time to spend with ole mother nature. So, here is your primer on getting started with an easy camp out for you and the kids, or you and your friend or boy/girlfriend, or just YOU. Don’t be intimidated. Just get out there and do it.
Step 1: Find a location, such as the nearest state or national park, within a reasonable driving distance, and find out if they allow tent camping. Most all do. Acquire a reservation or permit online, if one is required. Plan to drive to the campsite, and park near it if you are not prepared to backpack in all of your gear. Most will have tent camping sites within 500 yards of a parking spot, and near a river, stream, or creek. This is perfect for a new tent camper, or one with small kids who require more stuff to make things go smoothly.
Step 2: Get your gear. This is one of the areas that scares people. They do not know what to buy, nor do they want to spend a lot of money on gear. Understandable. You can do it relatively cheaply, though, and once you buy the gear, if you take care of it, it lasts! So, buy most of this stuff once and you are ready to go on a simple over-nighter, in the spring or summer, as many times as you want:
- Tent for the right number of people
- Sleeping bags and camp pillows
- Ground pads to sleep on
- Small butane/propane cooking stove
- Cookware in which to boil water on the stove
- Proper number of freeze-dried camp meals or something to cook over a fire
- Plastic eating utensils
- Insulated camp mugs for hot chocolate and coffee
- Water (plenty to cook with and drink; you can always leave some in the car)
- Flashlights and extra batteries
- Fire starting devices and wood (if fires are allowed where you go; some locales require you use local wood only)
- Folding camp chairs
- Toilet paper, hand wipes, and a camp towel or two
- Trash bags
- Cutting tools (large knives, small hatchet, or camp saw, in case you need more wood)
- Insect repellant, if needed
- Books, Frisbee, soccer ball, horseshoes, or any other games you want to play
- Swim suit and water shoes, if weather allows and there is a body of water
- First aid kit for cuts and bruises and bites
Now, you can buy all of this stuff at a Bass Pro Shop, an Academy Sports, or really, at any outdoor store near you. You can also order it online, if you do not live near any outdoor sporting stores.
One last item I always bring is a weapon, because I know how to use one, and how to handle it safely around my kids and other people. Do not bring a firearm if this is not the case for you, or if it is illegal in the park you are visiting (and you cannot keep it sufficiently concealed). Instead, get some bear or pepper spray in case you run up against unfriendly animals or people. Better safe than sorry.
Step 3: Plan your route to the camp site and load up your car. Most of these parks you can actually drive a car to — no truck or 4-wheel drive required — right to the camp site. Others require a hike to a camp site. Choose what is best for you.
Step 4: Drive your happy ass to your camp site, in the morning or early afternoon, so you have plenty of time to explore, hike, and/or do other things before setting up camp. Leave yourself plenty of time before dark to set up your camp site, though. Once you have your site picked out, and have arrived, set up your tent, throw your bags and sleeping stuff into it, bust out those camp chairs, get that fire going, and settle in for some fun. Tell stories, splash in the water, relax, chat, throw a football or a frisbee, shoot targets with a BB gun, and generally enjoy being outside.
Step 5: Most importantly, turn off that damn phone, tablet, and portable game system. Feel the grass under your feet, take in the smells, relish the absence of alerts, tones, and rings, and let the camp fire smell absorb into your clothes and nostrils. Get a little dirty, and come to know your own musky un-showered smell.
Let the kids run free, even a bit out of your sight. Tell them to skip rocks, find insects, gather firewood, and get dirty. Let your mind wander and actually find stimulation in your surroundings for once, as opposed to finding it only through the screen glued to your hand.
I think you will find you have a meaningful time with not only your kids, but with yourself, too. And if you hate it, and think it was a waste of time, then at least you did it once, and I am sure you can sell all your new gear on Ebay.
Enjoy, my friends!