Monday, 29 August 2011

Camping Parenting

Camping parenting is 100% different from home parenting. Things that would normally send me into the screamingbatcrapcrazies at home don't even faze me if they happen near a fire pit.

Our kids (and when I say 'our', I mean those belonging to my best friends and myself) have been camping for so many years that we know they will make relatively smart decisions, and we can pretty much trust them to stay safe. (The older ones, not the one still learning to walk. That's why God made playpens.) We know that they will usually stick together in groups of three or more, know to sing real loud when you're hiking in bear country (producing excessive noise is not something they generally have a problem with), and can find their way out of a forest. This means that every morning after we arm them with a few walkie-talkies (and stuff the other walkie-talkies into any cup holders not currently holding our liquor), we can pretty much settle into our lawn chairs and forget we have kids.

This provides us with some unique learning opportunities. For example, we now know that if one of our kids (not mine!) falls off a bike and lands on a giant rock and cuts her leg to the bone, the remaining kids are pretty quick to organize themselves into the 'first aid' group and the 'going for help' group. Their response time is actually better than most major cities. (If we had had any 3.0 silk on hand, her parents wouldn't even have had to leave the campground).

We also know that if two of those kids (again, not mine!) should happen to accidentally bike to a completely different town, they are smart enough to find a phone and call for help. (Although not smart enough to realize that calling for help meant you had to explain where you were, which was more likely to cause you bodily harm than getting lost in the first place.)

And lastly, we have learned that if you should happen to be camping with 10 or 15 other people in someone's back yard in small town Alberta and, say, lose a wander-happy toddler (yeah. mine.), local residents are more than happy to slow down their trucks out front (while you frantically search the back) and let you know they've found her. (On a side note, the words "There's a baby out here!" and "We have free beer!" sound oddly similar. As I came tearing around one side of the house, exceedingly grateful for the return of my daughter, the response from the other side of the house was overwhelming. They were so disappointed.....)

Normally I have pretty strict rules regarding food. It has to be clean, safe and free of any non-organic contaminants. Out camping, however, I am perfectly willing to take a half thawed chicken breast that has been laying in direct sunlight for the last 4 hours (my kids hate to close coolers), cook it to a nice medium rare with a thick layer of external char, watch my child drop it on the ground, pick it up for them, brush off the dog hair and rocks, put it back on their plate, and ask them if they want barbecue sauce for it. We even have a specific term for it- 'forest candy'.

We have taught our boys to pee on trees. Somewhere along the line, Squid took it to heart. He cannot wait to go camping, simply for the pee factor. The instant we pull into a campsite, he starts to pee. He marks every tree around the perimeter of the campsite. He sprays his initials on rocks. He sprinkles fallen logs. He wipes out entire anthills. The kid has a 35 gallon bladder, and endless patience. We have taken him out to the middle of various lakes, only to be told he has to pee. It seems cruel to just plop him into 30 foot deep water to piddle all over his life jacket, so there has been more than one occasion where we have balanced him on the side of whatever watergoing vessel we were currently in, and in full view of everyone on shore, let him sully the swimming hole. When you are 5 years old, and this has happened every year since you were potty trained, it stops being a phase and starts becoming a lifestyle.

Once, in a fit of alcohol-fueled hilarity, I taught all the kids how to make ghost gum. Take a marshmallow or two, and knead them between your fingers until the mess takes on a rubbery consistency. Do it long enough and it becomes gum-like and you can chew it for AGES. The longer you knead, the longer you can chew it. Ghost gum gets everywhere. Once you start to knead it, it sticks to your hands, your clothes, gets in your hair, and can glue your eyelids shut. My friends were stunned. This is SO far outside my normal behavior that they lost the power of speech and completely forgot to give me hell for it. (At the time, that is. Every camping trip since then, whenever the marshmallows come out, the campfire is in danger of being smothered by clouds of thinly veiled hostility. I don't blame them. To this day, I can't figure out why I did it.)

So for a few weekends a year and a couple of weeks every summer, we change to a slightly tipsy, lackadaisical version of parental unit that allows the kids to go 11 days without changing their socks, feeds them skittles for dinner on the way to the campground, and thinks jumping off a 30 foot cliff into near-freezing mountain water is a GREAT idea (provided your heart doesn't stop). Then we take them home and get irritated that their shoes aren't in the shoe rack.

Cause having kids is no fun if you can't mess with their heads.