The older my sons get, the more we’re going to expose them to activities I didn’t take part in as a kid. Outdoorsy ones, I mean. We didn’t camp. We didn’t travel much. Most of my travel and overnighters were to friend’s houses or as part of a youthgroup church, which may answer a lot of your questions about how I got this way. A recent camping trip stirred up a lot of issues for me, which as it turns out, have zip-point-squat to do with Camping. (And this is of course tacit agreement with the “1st World Problems” silo of complaints.)
First off, there’s very little “vacation” when the whole family is involved, at least with 2 active kids under the age of 4. It’s about the KIDS. The campsite had a great environment for kids to get on a couple wheels (bikes, not hamster) and work out some exuberance while parents pondered SPF, sobriety, and power-drinking. Kids need supervision, so I was on wheel patrol in a pair of Chucks. Good exercise, pretty much everybody was cool to chat with in the site. Assholes are everywhere, campsites, The Luxor, youth group overnighters, etc. Overall, great people. Ran into the guy who coached me in the throws in college track, and camped next to an older couple who had 2 cats with them, one of which was just fine walking around on a leash. At least twice during the trip I was asked if I was having a good time. Well, having a good time is relative…
Burn a 3-day weekend with 8 hours of road time, close-quarters, bad sleeping conditions for an indoor set-up, wildly varying moods among co-campers, and making any acknowledgement of it equates to being a sopping wet blanket with a major crick in my neck and shoulder. My wallet and my home improvement to-do’s will stay home next time, y’all go bananas. I’m a leashed cat myself sometimes.
So while other folks may be on vacation, I’m on a trip. I defer any preconceived notion of relaxation and I’m instead on a mission to have my kids exercise, overcome fears, and get them into their pajamas alive. Controlled Risk Activities. Growth. Intestinal Fortitude. Non-lasting head trauma. Zero-scar tumbles. THOSE are what’s most important about this trip. This wouldn’t happen on a National Holiday weekend in between mattress sales and franchise restaurants. And in order to make sure kids don’t catch on fire or get hurt or catch other kids on fire you gotta watch ’em. And not every parent watches their kids. You hope all the kids get along well, that no kids are violent bullies or are allergic to wind, whatever notion of “relaxation” you had for the trip has to be left at home. There are wildly different conditions to contend with, and not every adult is going to be involved at the same emotional level. I saw 8 year-olds being followed by grandparents, and 3 year-olds blazing around like “no big deal.”
It just struck me that there’s probably not a lot of background checking going on with the tenants of these places, some of whom root-down for a few months. Could be a lotta freaks there, sex offenders, undocumented Slovaks. Jeez, a few level-2’s here and there, unnoticed, and yet I’m still the asshole for not joyously diving into the camping experience as if Life begins and ends around a gas hibachi.
OH SWEET, POOL’S OPEN!
So yeah, there was stress in all of this, so there was very little relaxation to it. I go into everything that takes more than 2 days with a bit of chagrin and hope for good snacks. I try to focus on the benefits, like the kids getting out and having fun, some experiences to influence my stand-up, and trying to become a better Dad and Man (I just got a cordless drill last Christmas, so…).
So here’s what I learned from all the travel and prep and experience:
- If it’s not about you, don’t make it about you.
- If it’s about somebody who is having fun, don’t ruin their good time by outwardly not having fun.
- Make the best of it, and realize that you’re having more fun than you’d have if you were at home staring at the TV.
- If your significant other takes time to prepare, pack, and plan your part in all of this you better damn-well appreciate it, openly and frequently.
- If it’s actually about somebody’s attempt to make you have fun on their terms (“Hey, we got you guys a free vacation weekend with a zip-line, ropes course, 10 mile hike and snake hunting for the kids!), all bets are off, and don’t waste anybody’s time. “Thanks, but we’re busy” is better than showing up and ruining it for the others, or for somebody who would have jumped at the chance to hunt rattlers with their kids.
- Don’t assume it’s about you.
- Don’t assume it’s NOT about you.
- If you’re gonna go, decide that it’s gonna be a different kind of Fun. Then have that fun. You’ll be home before you know it.
- Shit happens, and it will happen to you, so just be flexible enough to let it bounce off of you, and not so rigid that when the shit hits it sticks to you for a long time.
- Sometimes you have to Go in order to prove why you should never have to Go again.
And a bunch of other stuff. I learned that I can drive a 30′ trailer with skill, make friends with just about anybody who isn’t a complete mental apocalypse bunker, and that some folks cannot be trusted with your kids. Plus I went 7-3 in 10 hands of Apples-to-Apples to come back from having ZERO green cards to win my first game in a year. Then I quit playing, undefeated, POWER DRINKING AT THE PUPPET STAGE, SEE YA.