I had a bad attitude from the start, so really what did I expect? Well, that’s not completely true… I had a bad attitude even before we started, and perhaps that was at least part of the problem.
You see, I’m not much of a camper. After 41 years living on this earth, one thing I know about myself is that I like my surroundings a certain way – particularly bathrooms. And I’m okay with that, really. And despite the fact that in my head I see myself as a tough-as-nails, hiking up the highest hills, running, that entire sentence isn’t completely true.
But when your two young sons and husband talk about going on a summer camping weekend to Gettysburg with such joy in their eyes, and you’ve never actually been to Gettysburg, it starts to sound like the best idea ever. And so, I went … bad attitude and all.
Unfortunately, my instincts were proving true even before we got to our destination. I stay home with my kids, while my husband works a demanding job outside of the home, so typically I take care of all the travel details and everything runs fairly smoothly. This being a Boy Scout event, however, I left the details, most of the packing and the planning to my husband – going against my instinct this time was my first mistake.
After we packed everything up and were about to pull out of the driveway, my husband realized he forgot his sleeping bag. Okay, deep breath, no big deal, I can roll with it – so we drove over to my sister’s, a few streets away, and retrieved the bag. Problem solved.
Happily, we headed to Dunkin Donuts, grabbed some sustenance and headed on out. The boys were quite cozy tucked in the back of the car while husband and I slurped steaming coffee and began to wake up to the day … and that’s when we realized our next mistake, thanks to boy #1. “Daddy, are we sleeping in our sleeping bags tonight?” he innocently asked. Husband and I shoot each other a quick, surprised looked….yep, we forgot THEIR sleeping bags this time.
Perhaps you’ve been there, the moment when you are so angry words just aren’t enough to describe your feelings (to what end anyway?), and so it was at this point that I got really quiet while husband turned the car around and we made our way back to Maplewood (from Berkley Heights!). A full hour after we had originally pulled out of our driveway, we were once again leaving Maplewood and truly getting on the road. And surely this must have been my husband’s fault…but I guess that’s not completely true.
After a longish car ride, we reached the camp site; I was suddenly struck dumb (doesn’t happen often) when I beheld off in the not-far-enough-away-for-me distance the bathrooms, well that’s not completely true either — the porta-potties. That’s right, I said PORTA-POTTIES!
I have always felt that when a woman reaches a certain age she should no longer have to suffer the humiliation, discomfort, and malodor of such a thing as a porta-potty, but on a Boy Scout trip roughing it is really part of the point. I just wish someone had told me about that.
I dug down deep, deep within my mostly city-girl self to make peace with the fact that this was where my family and I would have to relieve ourselves for the weekend; surprisingly, this worked. It also helped that I need only look off in the distance a bit to be reminded of the thousands of men (and boys, sadly) who sacrificed their lives so that the future would be better for others – like me. Add to this that I hadn’t had much to drink and really only had to use those porta-potties a few times so it really wasn’t so terrible. It’s the little things, right?
We spent the better part of the afternoon on a surprisingly comfortable tour bus that guided us along the beautiful battlefields of Gettysburg. I was slowly starting to relax. It helped that the bus came equipped with its own bathroom, of which I took full advantage while on board (as did many of our other fellow Boy Scouts and parents).
Our tour guide was straight out of central casting – a retired gentleman who knew anything and everything there was to know about Gettysburg, this man was particularly fond of creating vivid images of the battle using explicitly violent language. More than one mother on the trip and I raised an eyebrow about his choice of descriptions “How’d you like to see your best friend’s head blown off and rolling on the ground next to you?” he asked our group of young Boy Scouts. Really?
Back at camp, my husband began to pitch our tent and make this small patch of woods our home for the next 24 hours. My bad attitude and me chose to sit close by, eating juicy strawberries, and teasing the poor guy about how difficult it looked to build a tent by himself. I joked with other parents of Scouts about the tour guide, the outhouses, and shared with them our disastrous start to the day; it was surprising to me, at that point, that I started to feel a camaraderie growing between these people and me. The more we “complained” together, and the more time I spent in the woods, on a beautiful evening by the campfire, the more relaxed I became.
Unfortunately, dinner arrived to snap me out of my bliss…..chili mac, as the troop leaders described it. For a large group of people I can understand how this would fit the bill – easy to make in a large batch, and I’m sure quite low cost. For this rookie camper, it may have filled my belly but it didn’t satisfy my taste buds.
I could feel my crankiness beginning to return as I sat, sated but unsatisfied; just then I heard one of the leaders mention something about s’mores! I made sure I had a good spot near the fire, and as the kids were finishing up their s’mores I found a way to snatch one for myself. Chocolate will always cure what ails me, and just like that I was back to relaxation mode.
Snuggling into the tent that night, both boys and husband tucked in next to me, I started to understand the appeal of camping out. The fresh air at night was intoxicating, the togetherness with my family and new friends was made easy without the noisy distraction of computers, video games, and traffic, and the quiet sounds of the animals at night were better than any noise machine we’ve used at home (yep, that’s how I roll, a noise machine to help me fall asleep).
When we arrived home the next day, after a quick breakfast and a few hurried good-byes to our friends, I was grateful for the air conditioning, the clean, familiar bathrooms and my own bed. I had already told my husband earlier on Saturday that this would be the last camping trip I took.
Together, my husband and I watched the final few minutes of the USA Women’s World Cup loss against Japan, and I was struck by how quickly our American women were looking to their next championship, their next opportunity to work hard and win together. It occurred to me, if they can do it, so can I. And so at dinner that night, sitting around a table with two very happy little boys, I announced to my family “I’m ready to do it again.” Well, that’s not completely true….but I’ll give it another try for them anyway.