One: Getting Here
It’s hard to remember, with the weeks of excitement and anticipation leading up to family camp, that what I should be reminding the kids, at least the older ones, is that the first day of camp can be tough. Not for Jaden. Our 4-year-old is at home everywhere we’ve ever taken him. He gets right to work, charms all who might need to be charmed, and gets pretty much what he wants.
But for Shayla and her cousin Myles, 8 and 13 this year, a cautionary word might have helped them ease in. (Maybe. I’m starting to wonder if much of what I say to them matters at all, but that’s another story).
Camp arrival: First you have to see if your friends are here, and mourn the missing. Then you size up the friends: still friendly? There’s a bit of wary circling and some moping. Who has new friends, or has outgrown me? And seeing one of my kids sad faced and sitting alone pushes such deep buttons. Will they go friendless this year? Were the last 3 years at camp just a fluke?
But of course then, when you least expect it, a joke from last year, a friendly face, a little delight and you’re back. Camp feels like home.
Last night, our second at camp, after a sometimes tough day, Shayla and Myles were bickering playfully. Myles was telling absurd and pointless jokes, Shayla pointing out that none of them made sense, but laughing anyway. It was way past bedtime, I was exhausted and had been trying to wrangle them towards quiet for an hour. But the happy, teasing, comfortable sounds were just too delightful. There’s nothing more soothing than the sound of your child laughing. It was the perfect way to go to sleep.
There’s something deeply comforting about the sound of snoring. This will sound like justification from a well-documented snorer. My husband, no doubt, would go on the record against snoring. Many would, and perhaps I need medical attention to my sinuses.
But it’s a sound I’ve always found relaxing, knowing that someone is deeply, happily asleep. In the middle of the night, on the way to the bathroom, there was a deep buzzing coming from one of the other tents. Whenever I’ve camped or stayed with groups, the snoring of acquaintances or strangers feels particularly poignant. As creatures wired to protect ourselves, it seems the ultimate surrender and trust. We’re all here in this group, this snoring says to me, and I trust you not to come into my cave (or tent cabin, as it were), club me, and steal my kids.
It must remind me of my earliest camping with my own family, in a tent, then the pop-up, then the camper. All of us in one space, the sounds of others both a reminder that we’re somewhere special, and a comfort, a shield against strange things outside in the night.
Three: Pool Water Nap
I firmly believe that swimming at camp replaces any need for bathing. It’s a convenient rule for the kids (one less thing to pester them about), but it’s a rule I live by too. Even after Jaden found a dead rat floating in the pool filter, which caused a temporary pool evacuation and closure, it’s impossible not to feel cleansed and happy, drying in the hot high-altitude sun. Having cycled between hot air and freezing water enough times, you reach the perfect temperature, and can’t quite feel where your skin stops and the gentle wind through the sierra pines begins. The pool reopened soon enough. In all that chlorine what harm could one little rodent do?
Again this must be a childhood body memory. For me there’s no better way to nap than being warm and dry, after being wet, with the afternoon sun coming in the tent and just a bit of chlorine in the air. It’s the smell of happiness.