The Doritos in the dryer lint are a telltale sign that we’ve been camping. It’s one of those permissions, to eat what I otherwise designate as “poisonous” on regular days. I know this is a crummy lesson, that fun and junk food are partners. I know there are better, stronger, more fit and pure parents who bring trail mix and fruit and make their children do 10-mile hikes. Good for them. But this is us, and our goal this weekend was to bring everyone home alive and uninjured, with family connections renewed.
This wasn’t a given. When we pulled into the campground at Dennison County park near Ojai, the welcome sign warned us to beware of rattlesnakes. As we set up our campsite, Emmett noticed a low mound of dirt with a 2-inch diameter hole at its apex, in and out of which swarmed red ants. This, conveniently next to the picnic table.
We ate, set up the tent, and looked around at our gorgeous surroundings.
The afternoon stretched out in front of us. Now what? Hide and seek, one suggested, and off we went. Yes, this was why we were here. Playing together, in nature. I chose my hiding spots by the views they afforded.
Then…boredom set in. We played musical chairs, with one of us singing while the other four ran in circles around camp chairs. We read. “It feels like the longest day ever,” Maria said. I didn’t disagree. Christopher said, “Let’s go get ice cream,” and our spirits lifted. We drove the short distance to town and found Ojai Ice Cream across from Libbey Park, where we would spend the next few hours playing on a jungle gym designed for 5-12 year olds, and then playing “Avioncito,” an advanced version of hopscotch Maria taught us.
Back to the campsite. After a dinner of burnt hamburgers and hot dogs came the raison d’camping: s’mores. (See above re: junk food and fun.) Soon after came words I often say but never hear from my children: Can we please all go to bed? It was 9 o’clock.
Maria was nervous about being eaten by animals, so we put her in the center of the tent. As we turned off the last flashlight, Emmett reached toward me and held my hand. In the morning, he looked at me before dawn and said “Happy Mother’s Day,” then we both fell back to sleep.
I had suggested camping for Mother’s Day because I craved time with my children away from our usual habitat. It was everything I’d hoped for.