The Lawrence Family Unplugged
We decided to take our first camping trip as a family an experiment. We wanted to test our skills, we wanted to see how we would bond as a family without the comforts of home, electricity, and electronic devices, and we wanted to see if camping would be a good way to travel inexpensively. The experiment was, well, an experience.
The grownups went through their usual pre-travel packing anxiety--the stressful moment of realizing how far behind in the trip preparations we have fallen. The children went through their usual protests about being pressed into service.
Our older daughter, the thirteen-year-old, showed a remarkable level of acceptance on the point. She ran up and down the stairs, fetching and carrying various items, and washed the camp dishes with an aura of pleasant anticipation, excitement replacing the martyred air she usually wears when doing household chores. Our eight-year-old was the delicate creature for whom the broom and dustpan were too heavy and the stairs too steep. We were kind and understanding as we patiently explained that only those who helped out got to eat 's'mores. Her work got done, in the end, even if she labored to the accompaniment of her own noisy wails of protest.
Once the car was loaded up and we drove off the girls chose their various methods of coping with the lack of glowing screen for entertainment on the road. Our older daughter slept. Our younger daughter fought sleep. Valiantly.
Unloading and setting up the tents became an exercise of fitting the poles in the right places and fitting the jumping jack of a child into the right box. Teenagers are useful when it comes to setting up tents. Younger children refuse to give up the tent stakes they've been playing with because the queen stake was just about to promenade before her subjects (the other stakes). The entire kingdom was pressed into service to secure the tents, causing the imaginative child to wail, "Now, what I am going to d--" Her voice trailed off, knowing we had plenty for her to do.
We let our girls play with the other children from nearby campsites as we finished the preparations for a supper heated on the camp stove. (The fire was for roasting marshmallows.) A group of seven or eight noisy children--ours among them--came hurtling through our campsite occasionally as their game Zombie Tag progressed.
My teenager was one of the older ones holding on to the golden glow of childhood slipping through fingers. My eight-year-old gloried in running with a group of kids who hadn't had the time to label her as weird and decide to make her play It for the entire game. We noticed that in the comfort of their own homes, children can get petty, quick to make group decisions on who gets to play with whom and who gets left out. When they have nowhere to go but a tent with a sleeping bag and don't remember your child as the one who threw up in Discovery from eating too much at the Valentine's Day party, children out camping are friendlier than usual.
By the time we had finished our 's'mores and brushed our teeth, dodging the wayward skunk who was out for an evening stroll, we glanced up at the stars before crawling into our tents. They seemed so much closer and brighter than they do at home.