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Lessons from a foiled campout

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We had an old tent in the basement, one I'd bought when my son, Aaron, was 7. Over the next few years, we went on camping trips with other single-parent families from our church. We took that tent to Elk Neck State Park in Maryland, the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, and, one very cold weekend in May, the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

Then I met Steve, not a camper, and life took a new direction. We got married and, a year later, Matt was born. Aaron started junior high, and split his time between our house and his dad and stepmom's place. We took family vacations but, until one night in July, the tent stayed on a shelf in the basement.

Matt was, by now, a tall and slender 10-year-old. I drove him to our friends' house to feed their dog while they were on vacation. Tory is a large and springy springer spaniel. When we let her out of her kennel, she took off like a race horse. Matt and I followed her and then we saw it – a small tent pitched in the woods. There were ashes, too, remnants of a campfire. I told Matt then about the camping trips I'd taken with his half-brother.

"Could we get a tent, Mom?"

"We still have the one Aaron and I used to camp with." My head began to fill with plans. "Let's get it out of the basement."

Back home, we pulled the musty-smelling tent outside and set it up in "our woods," the part of our backyard farthest from the house and thick with trees. There were a few small holes in the sides but the roof was okay. Even if it rained, we'd stay dry.

As the sun set, Matt could hardly wait. He hurried up to his room to get his pillow and blanket. I'd been thinking we'd use the old quilt and pillows, remembering that spiders, ants, and dirt were also part of the camping experience. But how can a boy spend a night outside in the strange darkness without his trusty blanket? Without his own comfy bed pillow?

We got out the flashlights, tested them and replaced the batteries. We brought books to read before sleep. In the kitchen, we grabbed crackers and juice for a bedtime snack in the tent.

As we got ready for the night, I become annoyed with Steve. He took no part in our preparations or excitement – he didn't help, or care to sleep outside. This was my memory, and my adventure.

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