I think it might have been an episode of Curious George that inspired the Bean to talk about camping. Not just talk about it, but ask to go. It wasn’t long before “camping” was added to the ever-growing list of things to do this summer.
Though I am by no means an avid camper, I love it. This, by the way, goes against my upbringing. I was raised by people who have never slept anywhere that didn’t have a mattress a roof and most likely room service. My parents are mystified by how I grew up to love camping (in the same way they are mystified by how I grew up to be a movie nerd). But why not love camping? It’s about slowing down, about teamwork and hanging out with friends, telling stories and drinking beer. Plus there’s the ever-present wood burning smell, which is my favorite aroma in the entire world.
I was extremely excited to take my boy camping. But would he like it?
In a cunningly strategic move I enlisted one of my best friends, who has two boys similar in age to the Bean, to journey with me on this expedition. Our boys get along really well, and as a bonus I’d get some good bonding time with my buddy once the kids went to sleep. Assuming the kids went to sleep.
We arrived at the campsite with a car packed to the gills and three very excited, very loud little boys. The grounds amounted to a dirt field in the middle of nowhere. There was a total of two trees on the campgrounds, and thankfully one of them was on our site. Despite the 100 degree temperature, we had shade and a strong breeze that made pitching the tents challenging, but prevented us all from keeling over before the sun went down.
When evening approached, my buddy and I showed the boys how to build a campfire. My lighter was useless in the wind. Thankfully our neighbor, who was clearly an expert camper based on his gear and palatial tent, had a blowtorch. All of us, young and old, ooh and aah’d over the awesome toy.
The sun went down. Sticks were procured and hot dogs were cooked on said sticks. The boys learned the insane fun of throwing things into the fire to watch them burn. I taught the Bean how to roast a marshmallow. This prompted a lengthy discussion turned debate about the preferred method of roasting the confection. I like when they catch fire, rendering them crusty on the outside and molten on the inside. The Bean came to favor a more refined approach, where the outside was gently toasted to a light brown. That may be one of the only things we differ on.
Ghost stories were told. I showed the boys how to hold their flashlights under their chins when telling their tales for maximum creepy effect. Surprisingly, for a kid who can be afraid of the most unexpected things, the Bean’s stories were the most elaborate of the kids.
At one point I sat by the fire as the boys were running around. The Bean stopped playing and pulled his chair next to mine. Together we sat and talked as the orange flames licked the wood in front of us.
The sky was clear and the full moon hung so brightly overhead that we didn’t need our lanterns. Way past their bedtimes, the boys finally settled into their tent. After much talking and giggling, exhaustion overtook them and they fell silent. Asleep. My buddy and I toasted a few beers while the fire consumed the rest of the woodpile. We threw things into the fire and watched them burn.
Sometime during the night, the Bean migrated from his tent to mine and my buddy moved into the tent with his boys. The Bean was wide-awake when daylight broke. His stare shook me awake. The rest of the grounds were silent. I think we might have been the first ones awake in the whole place. Together, my boy and I watched the sun rise.
“Let’s go for a hike,” he said.
The day before I had been unable to convince him to hike with me. Now after I had spent the past 24 hours loading gear, pitching tents and chasing after three young boys who were hopped up on marshmallows and bug juice he wanted to go?
Barely conscious I groaned. “Aw, it’s too early for hiking, buddy,” said the man who was decidedly not a morning person.
“How about breakfast?” he eagerly asked.
That I could do. Thinking about the slab of bacon in the cooler, I sat up put on my sweatshirt and exited the tent.
“Are we going to put a pancake on a stick and cook it over the fire?” The Bean asked.
“Interesting idea. We’ll have to try it next time. You do want to go camping again, right?”
“Oh yeah, Dad. This was the best time ever!”