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Spiritual Practice of Parenting: I don’t get to relive my childhood

October 28, 2013

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We went camping Saturday night.

We have learned that as a family, we need, NEED to go camping periodically.  We need to unplug from our phones (although this time, for a rare change, we did have cell phone service).  We need to all sleep together in a tent and stomp through a river together.  Curtis and I need to sit around a campfire in the dark and talk quietly while our children sleep.  We need camping for the health of our family.  Even when some of us go sick (like we’ve done a couple of times—stomach bug?  Done that.  Influenza B?  Done by two of us), we need to camp.

As much as we need to camp, it’s been a bit of a learning experience.  Curtis and I both grew up camping.  I grew up tent camping at two places–Highland Retreat and Natural Chimneys.  Once my parents got sick of sleeping on the ground, we upgraded to camping in a pop-up.  At one point, we camped across the US–six weeks one summer in a mini-van and pop-up camper, hitting as many National Parks and too many KOA’s as we could.    Curtis grew up camping as well.  He did a little bit of tent camping, like we did, but for the most part, his idea of camping involves donning a pack and roughing it.  To camp, Curtis thought, we should hike in a few miles away from our car.  Maybe we would take a tent, but far superior was cutting down small trees and building a lean-to.

Needless to say, finding our camping groove as a family has taken some work.  While the tent camping primarily in the same spot every time with five of our closest family friends from our Sunday school class doesn’t work for us, neither does backpacking in a couple of miles with a three kids (aged 4, 6, and 8–aged 8,10, 12 maybe, but not 4 yrs old).  We’ve had to search for our own set-up.  We end up taking more stuff than I thought we needed at first, now I am quite comfortable with all we take and how organized things need to be.  Curtis has needed to get accustomed to Madeleine harassing him when he finds a branch to whittle into a marshmallow roaster.  But we’ve figured it out mostly.  We’ve developed a camping routine that is unique to our family, not to the families we grew up in.

Likewise, what we expect to do when we go camping has changed as well.  I am getting better at being willing to get my feet wet.  It was so incredibly freeing this weekend to walk in the river with my kids.  Usually I negotiate the side of the river, looking for a spot to walk that I can keep my feet dry.  It’s not that I don’t have proper footwear–my Keen’s were made for river walking.  It’s that I don’t like walking back to the campsite with soggy feet.  So usually, I stay dry and observe.  I don’t know what pushed me over the edge yesterday, but I got my feet wet.  I waded through the Guadalupe River and reveled in the cold water on my feet.  I remembered how much I enjoyed climbing on rocks, looking for footpaths and then giving up when I felt like it and just going for it.

Both Curtis and I have needed to work at not pushing the activities we did as children camping on our children.  Our children are unique and have their own interests.  They enjoy creating their own games instead of reliving our games for us.  Where we played in the river yesterday and a small stretch of shallow, rapidly (rapid for kids playing in the water–not rapid for anyone in a tube or a canoe or a kayak) moving water.  After riding down the rapids like a slide, the kids searched about for something else to do.  Curtis suggested boat races, something he enjoyed doing.  I suggested looking for fish, something I enjoyed doing.  Madeleine used the rope John insisted on bringing from the campsite and tied a stick to it.  They invented a new game–walking the dog.  They let the rope unravel as the stick was pulled downstream.  They whooped and hollered and eventually walked downstream and pulled the rope back in.

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It’s hard as a parent not to attempt to get my kids to repeat the things I did as a kid that I enjoyed.  I’m learning how to navigate it.  Curtis and I start out with what we individually know and find a compromise that meets us between the different traditions of our childhood.  That becomes our new starting point.  We make suggestions to the kids and they usually turn down our recommendations and create their own.  It’s hard not forcing our children to enjoy what we did.  However, the memories they will hold dear isn’t when they were puppets of their parents but when they created their own things.  When we let them develop their own games, they tend to get along better and stay entertained longer.  I already had my childhood, surely I can let my children have their own.

That’s why we need camping.  We need camping to escape routines and schedules.  We need camping to let the kids play and explore outside.  We need camping to give the kids a chance to set our plans a little more.  We need camping to spend time together and learn what we each really enjoy doing.

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