The local elementary school recently displayed a bulletin board full of students’ summer plans. Handwritten on colorful paper in the shape of kites, the children’s expectations floated up optimistically toward the sky. Some students expect to travel out of state to visit relatives this summer. Others have trips planned to Disneyland. A few kids mention visiting a national park, and others refer to long-planned vacations.
I could immediately identify the kites created by our children. Our kids are realists.
One of them wrote that she hoped to be able to spend a few days swimming at the city pool this summer. Another wrote about possibly seeing his cousins. Our kids, schooled in the ways of a busy farm in the summertime, know that we won’t be going to Disneyland.
Instead, they know that their parents will load them up in the pickup, hook up the camper, and take off for some unknown destination at some point during the summer. The date of these excursions cannot be planned ahead. It will happen when Dad is rained out, when the hay is all baled, or when the barley is a little too green to keep cutting.
We are not fussy about our location. The criteria for picking a camping spot are that we must not be able to see our house and the road leading to the spot must be rough, steep, rutted, and/or muddy. Sometimes we choose the mountains. Other times we head to the river. More often than not, we park at the bottom of the hill in the cow pasture.
In the eyes of the kids, the camper magically contains all they need for a good meal, some diversion, and a comfortable night’s sleep. The fact that their mom had to buy the groceries, plan the meals, wash the bedding, clean the floor and counters, and stock the cupboards is irrelevant. As long as there are plenty of hot dogs, chips, and marshmallows, all is well.
After an always entertaining session of camper leveling with the spouse, he goes about building a campfire while I begin the cycle of cooking a meal, cleaning up after a meal, and trying against all odds to keep both the camper and the little campers relatively clean. This is an especially difficult task given the fact that water is always a precious commodity while camping, and trying to clean the egg pan with just a trickle of water and some elbow grease can be an exasperating affair.
I realize, however, that it could be much worse. It could rain.
We once camped in the cow pasture over Memorial Day weekend, the only three days of the year when rainfall is reliable in Montana. The kids played inside the camper during the first afternoon, during which my daughter sobbed to my son, “You’re taking up the whole entire room, and you won’t even let me be the president.” His rational reply was, “Well, I guess you can be the vice mayor.”
After listening to the rain fall on the roof of the trailer all night long, my husband and I decided we should probably make our way out of the coulee before that was no longer an option. We hiked up the hill, four children in tow, taking only the necessities with us. We realized too late that the pan of brownies had been left behind.
While my memories of camping with the family include much cooking, cleaning, and laundry when we return, I know my kids see it very differently. To them, camping is an escape from rules that govern bedtime and how much dirt is acceptable on one’s hands and face. It is a time when Mom and Dad go on hikes with them and stop along the way to pick wildflowers. It’s about cave exploration, burning hot dogs over the fire and eating them anyway, and breaking Mom’s rules about drinking pop.
When our kids look back, they will forget about the fights with their siblings and the night it was 100 degrees in the camper and no one was able to sleep. They will remember that we took a family vacation, even if it was just in the cow pasture.