Camping With Barley Part 1
I love camping. I always have. I think more people should do it. It’s a great way to spend time with family, get away from the grind, and meet new people. I couldn’t wait until my grandson was old enough to take camping. We would spend a week in a tent, just Bailey and me. This would be a rite of passage. I coveted the chance to share my camping knowledge. We would explore the woods, wet a worm, and wake up to the smell of brewing coffee and bacon. I imagined nights around the fire, roasting marshmallows, talking about the day’s events and planning the next. Oh, the delights that awaited my unsuspecting grandson. This was going to be a great experience.
I have never raised a child from birth. I met my step-daughter (I hate that phrase) when she was eleven, and by choice, I have no (biological) children of my own. When Bailey was born I looked forward to watching him grow up, and I loved the idea of being a grandpa. I could watch him grow up, and actively participate in his life, without having the responsibility of being a father. In fact, I told my daughter that my job was to spoil him, and when he smelled like he was spoiled, I’d give him back. Little did I know just how much I had to learn.
As Bailey approached his fifth birthday, I was anticipating our first camping trip. I was comfortable with the fact I could handle seven days alone with him. So preparations were made. The gear was packed, and we were on our way to Tomahawk Lake State Park. The only stop we had to make was to pick up a borrowed canoe.
The Drive North
The trip north went smoothly. The canoe was successfully fastened to the top of my Blazer. We played games and talked about camping stuff. Snacks had been carefully planned and were satisfactorily deployed. Strategic stops were made to break the monotony of sitting in one place. I even came up with a way to address the inevitable “How much longer, Puppa?” question. At the time, Finding Nemo was Bailey’s favorite movie. Since kids have no sense of time, I correlated the timeline of our four-hour trip with memorable points in the movie. So when Bailey asked the inevitable question, I would say something like “Nemo has just met the sea turtles?” or “Nemo just escaped from the fish tank.” That way he would know how close to the end of the movie we were. It seemed to satisfy his curiosity better than “We’re almost there.” A good start and a major milestone achieved.
When we reached the campground, we scouted the perfect site. We found a campsite on the water; not too far from the beach, just far enough from the bathrooms, with a water pump close by. We posted our permit and began to setup camp.
I remember going camping as a kid. I couldn’t wait to get out of the car to do what I did best; be a kid. There were trails to run, frogs to harass, fish to catch and other kids to find. Adventure was so close the air reeked with the smell of it. Unfortunately, there was work to be done first. Anticipation squelched by the harsh reality of setting up camp. My hands may have been helping, but my mind was elsewhere. I actually think my dad secretly derived some pleasure from keeping me busy, rather than letting me fulfill my destiny. Usually, enough huffing and whining from my sister and I would result in a pardon from the warden.
I know that Bailey must have been feeling the same way when his door was opened and the safety restraints released. So when Bailey looked up at me and began the sentence with “Can I,” I thought about my dad. There was a playground not too far away, filled with the sounds of fun. I explained the rules, and let him go. Camp was setup, the canoe was beached, and I was off to find my grandson.
Our First Day
When I got to the playground Bailey was sitting in the sand with a red-haired boy, and they were talking. He looked a lot like the red-haired kid from the Harry Potter flicks. I don’t remember his name, so I will refer to him as the red-haired kid. I do remember that he just couldn’t bring himself to call Bailey by his name; he called him Barley. Anyway, Barley and the red-haired kid became fast friends and were inseparable the rest of our stay. He even spent one night with us, in our two-man tent.
All three of us walked around the campground and familiarized ourselves with the layout. The red-haired kid was quite the guide, pointing out all points of interest. We stopped to meet his parents, and his six to nine siblings. I lost count; they all looked the same, just different heights. Stephen King came to mind. All the red-haired kids were well mannered and their parents were salt-of-the-earth types. We had a nice chat. While we were walking back to the campsite, I kept wondering how they managed get all those people into their tiny little pop-up; not too hard I suppose if you stack them just right. We changed into our swimsuits and headed for the beach.
The beach at this park was great for kids; nice and wide, with plenty of sand. The clear water deepened gradually and was nicely warmed by the July sun. We played, and talked with other campers, and generally enjoyed the sense of “instant camaraderie.” That’s one of the nicest benefits of camping. People seem to lower their guards. I wouldn’t doubt that a lot of these folks probably don’t socialize much at home and camping offers them a release. After our swim we headed back to the campsite to enjoy our evening.
Nothing beats eating in the great outdoors. The meals can be simple and tasty, and lend themselves well to the palettes of children, and I encouraged Bailey to participate in the process. I watched as he skillfully roasted his hotdog; which any gourmet knows is the perfect complement to a fine can of fruit and perfectly-aged box of juice.
We followed dinner with a card game and some roasted marshmallows. Since Bailey hadn’t slept all day, and not too well the night before according to my daughter, it wasn’t long before Bailey was bitten by the bug of exhaustion. I tucked him into his sleeping bag and reveled in the simple perfection of the day.