When I was a kid, the word “vacation” meant one thing: camping. Every summer, our family spent two weeks at Pawtuckaway State Park in Raymond, NH, in a little pop-up camper. We’d get up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning, Dad would hitch up the camper to our lime green station wagon with the glittery silver side panels, throw my sister and I in the back seat, and off we’d go.
Sometimes we’d stop at Dunkin Donuts for breakfast, which my sister and I considered a special treat just for us, but which in retrospect was probably to get coffee for Mom so she could survive the trip.
Once we arrived at our campsite, my sister and I would run around exploring and gathering kindling, a task which also in retrospect was probably just something to get us out from underfoot while Mom and Dad set up the camper. This suspicion is strengthened by my lack of memory of actually collecting any significant amount of kindling.
My favorite task, however, was the final part of setting up the camper: extending the legs. Our camper had four little pop-down legs that ratcheted down to the ground using a crowbar. Since the camper was old and rusty, the legs took quite a bit of convincing to ratchet. My job was to wait until Dad inserted the crowbar, then to stand on it and jump up and down with all of my 30-pound weight to make it ratchet. (This task served me well when I learned to drive and Dad taught me to use the same trick when changing a flat tire.)
This summer, my husband and I are taking my kids camping at Pawtuckaway for the first time. We don’t have a pop-up trailer, but our kids will get to rough it in a tent. My son’s big task will be to carry water from the spigot. He actually assigned himself this task last year. I got a little choked up seeing this tough little 2-1/2 year old marching proudly off to the spigot with an empty bucket, determinedly figuring out how to turn the spigot on and get the bucket in the right place to fill it without knocking it over, and then carefully walking back to the campsite one tiny step at a time to avoid spilling any of that precious half-full bucket of water. I have no doubt that this year he will have a little blonde shadow as my almost 2 year old daughter runs after him, “helping.”
To me, as an adult, camping is “roughing it.” I’ll be sleeping in a sleeping bag, with no A/C. I’ll be cooking over a fire or on a little propane stove with food from a cooler instead of a fridge. I’ll be using communal bathrooms with cold showers and plenty of spiders to keep me company. I’ll be swimming in a chilly lake instead of my toasty warm pool. I won’t be bothering with (or bothered by) my cell phone or my Kindle Fire or my television set. I’ll be washing my hands with cold water from a jerrican and a bar of soap encrusted with sand and a few bugs. I’ll be brushing my teeth with a manual toothbrush instead of my electric one and drying my hair not with a hair dryer but with a manual method commonly referred to as a towel. I will be lacking my morning coffee entirely. (That would be the roughest part of roughing it.) I like roughing it, but I am always very aware that I am, in fact, roughing it.
To my kids, however, “roughing it” is a synonym for “adventure”! Eating dinner in front of a roaring fire is an adventure. Swimming with fishes zipping past your feet is an adventure. Getting to hold a stick in the fire to cook your own hot dog or toasted marshmallow is an adventure. Chasing fireflies and watching for shooting stars and sitting perfectly still to watch a chipmunk or a raccoon and listening for owls hooting back and forth to each other are all adventures.
Somehow, getting to share that adventure with them making roughing it a lot less rough.