Last week, Nathan and I spent a few days at Camp Brinkley with his Cub Scout troop. I’m still emerging from the physical and emotional drain of it all, of being with over 100 boys and their dads and moms and handling this boy I call my own.
This was the first time I had ever camped in my whole life. The closest thing I ever got to sleeping outdoors was during college when I would retreat to the parking lot and sleep in my car between classes. But I’ve never camped the way I’ve seen in the movies or one of my favorite shows Salute Your Shorts, even though I’ve lived in the Northwest as long as I have.
So I took this opportunity as a chance to connect with my oldest, my first baby, the one person who asks me often, “Are you going to tell your jokes, Mommy?”
I brought sleeping bags and simple clothes for the both of us. I was woefully unprepared for the rain because I looked at the forecast before we left and it did not call for rain at all. SO THANKS VERY MUCH WEATHER PEOPLE.
Smiling even when soaking wet.
These were the camp options: a canvas tent with a wooden platform or a partially open shelter with wooden bunkbed slats. There was a lot of bug sweeping and spider web cleanouts before we could set our bed in there. Luckily, the dad we carpooled with suggested that I buy a cheap airmattress from Fred Meyer on the way in and I’m so glad Nathan and I had that to rest our sleeping bags on, even though it deflated and felt like I was sleeping in the arms of a wimpy, lumpy beast.
There were toilets at our campsite for the boys called a Kybo which is probably Boy Scout speak for “this will smell when it gets warmer.” I was fortunate that there was a ladies restroom nearby and I didn’t have to resort to this. There were two shower buildings, one for men and boys with the adults and kids separated. That was the first rule told to us, if you enter the kids shower, you will be kicked out. The ladies shower room called “LADIES HEAD” had two shower stalls with rickety system but hot, glorious water.
I had my hair up the entire time. I have so much hair, it was easier to rock a cheap plastic headband and lopsided bun. There was a hairdryer, but it felt more like a handheld fan, no hot air. There was another mom I met in there who remarked, “I forgot all my eye makeup!” I had some Dr. Jart Beauty Balm which was the extent of the makeup I used.
The camp food was heavy with cream and carbs but little flavor. There was mac and cheese with cut up hot dogs, soft tacos with ground beef, buttered pasta and marinara sauce. There were vegetarian options, as well. Somehow we were always the only table that didn’t have any tabasco at all. I should have brought my own.
Our days were made up of activities: BB guns, archery, knot tying, nature walks, etc. Nathan had trouble keeping up with the bigger kids, those who had gone every summer and knew how to handle knives. We didn’t try archery. We left the BB gun class because he wasn’t being safe. And he did not get a knife. I saw that and said, “NOPE!”
I did want to leave several times, when Nathan was acting up or when I was worn out trying to get him to behave, to be better, to listen, to calm down, to stand up, to pay attention, to be nice, to keep his hands to himself, to eat over the plate, to use his fork, to not yell in my face, on and on and on. I called Mike a few times and stuck the phone in Nathan’s face with a sharp, “TALK TO YOUR FATHER!” Mike would remind him to listen to his mom and sometimes that helped, but mostly, I wanted Mike to know what I was going through, even if he couldn’t do much more than give a stern warning over the phone.
But because we had carpooled with another person, we didn’t have a car to rescue us. One mom left with her son early but I didn’t have any other choice other than to power through.
On the second and third days we took a lot of breaks, especially when Nathan had a rough time focusing during the activities or handling things like the bigger kids. I could see him struggling to understand the process of how to handle a BB gun, how to tie knots, how to stand in a straight line. There were a few meltdowns which drained me as well so I would usher him away and we would find a quiet spot or trail and we would pause until he calmed down.
There was a non-denominational chapel. We never attended any of the after-dinner services. There wasn’t a huge religious tone in the weekend though at meal time they would begin with a prayer “in whatever manner you are accustomed to” and ended it with, “Amen.” I don’t agree with the Boy Scout politics and their standing on gay scout leaders, but there wasn’t anything directly said. It wasn’t like the instructors were teaching the kids how to hold a BB gun and said, “This is how you load the bullets, and you know, NO HOMO!”
No one made me feel different or awkward, everyone was very kind. The other dads and moms helped out and we collectively watched over the troop, shushing or reminding them to stay safe or stay in line or focus. Even the counselors were nice to me when Nathan was having a hard time, asking, “Is there anything I can do to help with this situation?” It was very hard for me to answer with, “Here! Raise my kid for me!”
Another dad stopped me toward the end and said, “I’ve watched your son and he’s very entertaining.” I couldn’t argue with that. As much as he wears me out, he’s the son of a comedian. He’s bound to have some material.
I thought it was funny how all the outlets were taken at meal times. There were dads scrambling to power up their phones. I had my battery with me, so I didn’t have to scavenge for one as quickly, but it was nice to know that there was power if I needed it.
Camp Brinkley had a man-made lake with reddish water because of the cedar logs that lined the bottom. Kids and adults had a swim test which determined which parts of the lake they could swim in. Nathan didn’t pass the advanced test so he had to stick to the shallower area. That didn’t stop him from swimming from one end of the shallow part to the other, administering and passing his own test. He tried to convince the life guard that he did in fact pass the test, which I had to call out, “You have to pass *their* test! Not your own!”
Every adult and child had a white paper chip which they had to place on a board where they ranked as a swimmer before they could enter the water or even sit on the side. Two kids didn’t place their chips in the right area so the lifeguards had to call everyone out of the water and remind them that if they don’t place the chips where they’re supposed to be, how will they know who is in the water. I liked that there was so much safety checks in place.
Nathan definitely loved swimming, even though it was freezing.
One night, we sat around the fire and made smores while the kids told scary stories, mostly it was just different parts of the movie The Mothman Prophecies.
Nathan had the most fun when he was free and active, not stuck on a log trying to make different knots or learn about poisonous leaves. At night, after the kids had gorged themselves on root beer floats or churros, there were games on the field. There was an enormous game of Capture the Flag with children versus parents. There were tons of kids I had to battle. I made sure to focus a lot of my energy on Nathan. His sweaty red face was nothing but pure joy when he thought he was going to be able to break free and then I popped in front of him and hissed, “I’ve got my eyes on you, boy.” Then I chased him and we both screamed and laughed like we the only ones playing.
But my favorite, favorite moment was the Chief Joe Race which Nathan’s role was to complete last leg. All he had to do was grab the baton, run around a corner and race through the finish line. You can hear me screaming in this video along with all the others who cheered on my boy, who was not the first place finisher, but a finisher nonetheless, a little boy who saw the end and kept going, going, going. I grabbed and hugged him and told him how proud I was of him.
I got a lot out of the camp, even with Nathan’s various struggles and triumphs. I saw Nathan shine when he allowed to run and play. I saw him struggle with focusing and sitting still. I was able to see him interact with other boys and his difficulties expressing himself to other boys, especially older ones who might not understand his jokes. I left drained, but determined to be a better mom, to be a better listener to this kid who has so much to say and so much life in him and needs a hand every once in a while.
I wouldn’t mind camping again with the entire family. I would bring our car so we could have rain gear and snacks just in case. I would buy some easy to dry shoes like Keen’s. I would bring flashlights and lamps and more cushy things to make the wooden platform more comfortable. I wouldn’t do this with the Cub Scouts unless Nathan really wanted to, but he didn’t show any interest in earning badges, just running around in the wilderness. I don’t blame him. I loved the trails and the quiet, a place far from the din and rush of city living, a place where the only human sounds are the words we tell each other.