Count Me Out for Camping!
Empty metal lockers stand like sentries protecting the vacant hallways and the school bells are once again silent. It is summer vacation for teachers and students alike
During this time of year we often dust off and reinstate family traditions for another season of memories. Adults and children return to rental houses at the beach or re-book vacations at familiar resorts in the mountains or at favorite lakefront hotels. Everyone is a year older and sadly with the passage of time, sometimes there is a vacant chair.
I know that my father was a Boy Scout in his youth and that my mother used to go on camping trips with her brother and her parents, so it was only natural that my three sisters and I were introduced to the Girl Scout Camping experience at an early age. Their rustic campsites have always held true to the basic tenets of an outdoor living experience. Most are complete with stone-ringed campfire circles, distant settlements of pungent wooden outhouses, and narrow, worn down dirt trails meandering through the dense foliage leading to six person platform tents.
Minnetoska was the name of my first Girl Scout Camp. I was told that the name came from one of the local Native American tribes who inhabited the area around Lake Otsego in upstate New York and about whom James Fenimore Cooper wrote his many tales. The rustic four unit campsite was nestled on the densely wooded steep slopes to the north of the village of Cooperstown, camouflaged and hidden from civilization. It provided all of the traditional activities known to seasoned scouts: morning “polar bear” dips, floating lunches in a huge flat bottom wooden rowboat, the cooking of soggy dough-boys over an open fire on crudely whittled sticks, and of course, the singing of numerous camp songs which echoed across the narrow lake. There were clever caper charts hung in each unit for morning chores and a waterfront buddy board at the shoreline, flanked by cardboard boxes of colorful rubber caps for our swim lessons.
I hated it.
“Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business.” (Dave Barry)
I dreaded my two week stint each summer and tried to convince my mother that I really, really did not like group living in a musty tent with no running water or electricity and that I despised the sugary sweet “bug juice” and ground up cold hot dog and pickle relish sandwiches that we carried in paper bags on long hikes up to Natty Bumppo’s Cave. For each of my five seasons at camp I tried, to no avail, rubbing any shiny leaf in sight all over my body in hopes of contracting poison ivy. I figured that I least I would get to stay in the infirmary cabin, which had electricity and a warm shower! Like a bear coming out of hibernation, every summer, the predictable battle began as my mother started laying out our camp clothes and initiating the propaganda.
“Oh, Kim, you will have so much fun!” she enthusiastically declared each year.
Often crying and vehemently pleading my case, I usually offered to stay at home and do everyone’s chores for two weeks. One year I even said that I would stay in my room for the entire two week stint and not even come out for food. But alas, each July she won and off I went in defeat dragging my mess kit and bedroll behind me.
So why then did I perpetuate this unpleasant tradition myself when I became a mother? As I got older did I feel that this unfortunate torture helped to build my now strong character and it was a rite of passage that my children should experience? Did the by-gone years actually erase the severity of the situation and cloud my judgment? Weren’t the awful memories of lying awake on my cot at night while listening to the crickets and plotting an escape to the nearest roadway still strong enough? Was I feeling a need to highlight my childhood in order to linger in the safety net of nostalgia? Or was I just blindly holding on to tradition and hoping for a better experience for the next generation? I am not sure.
“Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.” (Susan Lieberman)
“Oh Samantha, there is so much to do at camp. You will have so much fun!” I verbally coaxed my reluctant eight-year-old daughter as I prepared my innocent child for her first Girl Scout adventure.
Here I was, oddly drawn to this familiar, traditional rite of passage. I was pushing my unsuspecting first born out of our comfortable home in a feeble attempt to foster her emerging sense of independence through tough love. By the end of her second summer camp fiasco, my determined fifth grade daughter told me loud and clear that she did NOT like rustic living and that she was NOT going back! As she described to me all of the familiar “fun” activities, I was jolted back to reality by a vivid flashback to my own camping misery. I didn’t push it any further.
Hmm-m-m- like mother like daughter. Maybe we both had to pass though that summer gauntlet to firmly establish what we did not like. Maybe we had to experience outdoor living for ourselves so that we would never have any regrets or feel left out when we heard of other childhood adventures and suspicious pleasant memories. We both did it, and we would never do it again.
Samantha has a daughter who will be two on the 4th of July. Do you think in a few years this same conversation will be replayed in her household?
“Oh Charlotte, camping is fun. You are going to love it….”
Should I step in and break the cycle or let tradition take over? I still have a few years to think it over.
Is anyone camping this summer?
(P.S. Today, June 9,2012 one of the Girl Scout’s centennial celebrations, “Rock the Mall”, is taking place in Washington D.C. One hundred years of camping “fun”!)