Okay. I did it.
I went camping. Not the air conditioned cabin type of camping. I’m talking about the sleeping on the ground in a tent kind of camping. I know you’re surprised. So am I. But when my five year old son, N, looked at me with those big brown eyes and begged to go camping, how could I resist?
I blame my nephew, Alex, for planting this seed in N’s head. For the past two years he has regaled N with tales of camping with his Cub Scout troop. It didn’t help that N’s grandfather was the one who accompanied Alex each year.
Each time they went, N would beg me to go, too. I always used the excuse that he was too young, but when I saw the Father/Son camping trip flyer at church, I knew I had run out of excuses. So I talked with a few of the other men at church, and we all agreed to take our boys camping. I couldn’t wait to share the news with N.
“N,” I said. “Guess what?” Looking at me quizzically, he replied, “What?”
“Daddy’s taking you camping.”
“Really,” he said through a huge smile.
“And guess what else?”
“What?” he yelled. The anticipation was too much for him.
“Mister Man and The Boy are going too.” (Note: Mister Man is N’s godfather).
“They are,” he said. “Yay!!!”
N’s euphoria was short-lived as the reality of the camping trip started to sink in.
“Will there be wild animals there?” he asked tentatively.
“Yes, there will be wild animals” I said. “We’re going to the woods. That’s where they live.”
He sat quietly for a few minutes before responding. “Are we bringing a gun?”
“Why on earth would we bring a gun?”
“To shoot the wild animals,” he said. “You know…the bears and lions.”
“We won’t need a gun because there will be no bears or lions. Only a few raccoons, elk, deer, and maybe some snakes.” As the word snake escaped my lips, I wanted to stuff it back into my mouth. N’s face turned grim and his eyes grew wide.
“Don’t worry,” I said to reassure him. “The snakes will not bother us because they are afraid of us. Besides, Daddy will be there to protect you.” I guess my words gave him some comfort because his excitement returned. For the next few days, N told everyone he knew about the camping trip. In fact, he would tell total strangers about it.
As excited as N was about the trip, I think my wife, KayEm, was even more so. As I mentioned earlier, my nephew had been camping a couple of times already. That nephew is my wife’s sister’s son. So they spent countless hours discussing what supplies I needed for the trip. To place this in the proper perspective, you have to understand my sister-in-law. She should have written the Scout’s motto, “Be Prepared.” Whenever Alex goes camping with Paw-Paw, the truck looks like a delivery vehicle for Patagonia.
The more K pressed, the more I resisted. I refused to be a pawn in her game, but she refused to be ignored. Each day she would volunteer to shop for our supplies. I kindly refused. She asked to pack our bags. I declined. She even offered to carry us both on her back all the way to the campsite. I thought about it for a minute, and then decided against that too.
N and I went to the sporting goods store and purchased the following items:
- Tent and tent stakes
- Flashlights (LED lights work great)
- Pocket Knife
- Leatherman tool
- Sleeping bags
- Pillows and blankets
- Rain gear
- Fishing equipment
That was all that we needed to have a pleasant camping experience. If K and her sister had their way, I would have needed a caravan of pack mules to carry all of the gear.
The next day, Mister Man and The Boy came by to pick up N and me. We loaded the truck and an hour and a half north to Centerville, TX. As you can imagine, the boys inundated us with “Are we there yets?”
We reached the campground around 6pm. By the time we arrived, several of the guys from our group had already set up their tents. I unloaded our gear and proceeded to set up camp. As I stood there staring at a box of tent pieces, a couple of guys noticed my ineptitude and offered to help. Within minutes, my tent was up. Before I could appreciate our handiwork, I heard N crying in the distance. I turned to see a boy leading him towards me. The boy explained that one of the older boys elbowed N in the eye while they were playing football. I thanked the boy for his help and instructed N to stay with me until dinner time.
After he settled down, he asked me if we could go fishing. Once again my inexperience would be exposed. Although I had gone fishing many times, I never had to prepare for fishing. Most of my fishing trips occurred at my company’s lodge where guides handed me a fishing pole, baited my lines, guided me to the best spots in the stocked pond, and cleaned, gutted and bagged the fish for me.
“We’ll go fishing after dinner,” I told him. That gave me at least 30 minutes to become an expert fisherman.
We chowed down on Texas style BBQ. As we ate, more campers showed up. I noticed that one of the guys was struggling with his tent. I tossed my plate away and went to help him. After all, I was now a skilled tent-pitcher. As we talked, I discovered that he was a fisherman and he agreed to show me how to rig my rod since I had helped with his tent. He taught me all about sinkers, floaters, lures, bait, and how to tie the proper knot on your hook. I thanked him and prepared to impress N with my new found knowledge.
I beckoned N back to the tent and he eagerly ran toward me tripping over one of the tent stakes in the process. He got a pretty nasty scrape on his leg. Luckily, one of the other dads had a first aid kit (like the one K suggested I purchase) and I was able to clean and bandage N’s wound. Things weren’t starting off well for N. Unfortunately they got worse before they got better. We went fishing and didn’t catch a single thing. N was disappointed. So was I. It was getting close to 9pm so we decided to settle in for the night.
N and I held the flashlight to our faces and told scary stories. After one particularly scary story, N asked me not to make my stories so scary. Just a little scary. I complied. An hour later, we were both exhausted and decided to go to sleep. I had to run off a few of the older boys who decided that it would be a good idea to play football around our tent at 10pm.
After I tucked N into his sleeping bag, he turned to me and asked, “Will any snakes come into our tents tonight?”
“No snakes will visit us tonight,” I reassured him.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, N,” I said. “I’m sure.” With that, he turned over and fell asleep.
Around 11pm, I heard the wind howling through the woods. At first, I ignored it, but after 45 minutes, it grew more intense. A few minutes later the rain began. It started as a gentle drizzle, then progressed into a torrential downpour. For the next 6 hours, we were inundated with stormy weather.
N hates stormy weather and becomes frightened when it rains too hard. I was worried that he would become hysterical. He did better than I expected. Maybe he was comforted by the fact that his daddy was there to protect him.
I maintained a brave facade, but I was worried that the tent would not weather the strong wind and pelting rain. For obvious reasons I did not get very much rest. Even if it weren’t storming, I doubt that I would have slept because sleeping on the ground is incredibly uncomfortable (Note to self: bring an air mattress next time).
The storm finally passed around 6am and N had managed to get a few hours of sleep. When I woke him up for “Morning Wrestle,” he seemed well rested. I’m glad to say that my tent stayed up and did not have any leakage. Many of the other campers didn’t fare as well. Mister Man and The Boy were completely soaked.
After cleaning up and drying off, we all had some breakfast tacos and coffee. N wanted to go fishing again so we grabbed our poles and headed to the lake for the next several hours. As we fished, I was awestruck by the beauty of my surroundings. I took in God’s masterpiece with all of my senses. At that moment, I realized how important it was for me to share an appreciation for nature with my son. Many kids, especially African-Americans, don’t get this opportunity. I intended to make the most of it. I taught him the names of the fish that lived in the lake, bass and crappie. I pointed out the longhorns that were grazing across in the field. I even told him about the water moccasins that slithered around the campsite. His face was filled with awe and wonder and I knew that these were moments that he would always remember.
We didn’t catch any fish, but N did learn how to bait his hook and cast. Besides, I doubt that catching a fish could have made the interaction between us any richer.
I’m thankful to have gone on this camping trip. It allowed me to bond with my son, learn a few things about myself, and marvel at the wonder of nature. I can’t wait to go again next year.
Join the conversation and share your camping experiences in the comments section.