My first-born just recently went to Outdoor Lab, the sixth grade’s week-long, overnight camp in the great outdoors. He went to Windy Peak, 9 miles outside of Bailey, to learn about earth science, astronomy, wildlife and forestry. He also got to learn about teamwork and bit about himself. This is one of the perks of growing up in Colorado. No such thing exists in Katy, Texas or Lawrence, Kansas–or so my friends and family who live there say.
I got to go to Wild Basin (just north of Allenspark) when I was in sixth grade. I still remember the night hike I took with a bunch of school boys. It was drizzling, and we had to construct a shelter out of leaf bags. Whoever built the best shelter would win a candy bar. I paired up with a classmate and flimsily stretched black plastic between two mountain shrubs. Others smartly constructed a strong lean-to. A gust took ours apart in two seconds flat. Luckily, I snatched it from the wind in time, and my partner and I fashioned it into an umbrella without a cane and sat side-by-side beneath it. We did not win the candy bar.
I also remember borrowing my best friend’s “too grown up” clothes and her eye makeup for five days–a definite no-no as far as my mother was concerned. But my mom wasn’t there, so I snuck it. Unfortunately for me, they took pictures of the trip and presented our parents with a slide show at the end of the year. My mother gave me the stink-eye every time a mountain “glamour girl” shot of me popped up. I thought I looked beautiful in blue eyeliner. My mother did not.
Now I’m the mom with my own concerns–quite different from my mother’s, mind you. While we were (I was) packing for my son’s trip, I was very concerned about my son’s ability to keep track of 53 odd pieces of gear and use the right toiletries. You don’t really know if there’s a deficit of knowledge until you have to send your kid out into the big unknown. Could my son bring back all of his belongings? He loses a single glove once a ski season, a water bottle once a month, and a jacket every two weeks. This was especially important to me because he was borrowing a few of my things. Would I ever see my hiking boots again? Not to mention, we bought a boat load of essentials that apparently we did not possess (“cool” sunglasses, a “reading” flashlight, “acceptable” rain gear, and non-embarrassing long underwear). I labeled everything with his name just in case I’d have to call “Lost and Found.”
I put his toiletries in his father’s toiletry bag. I marveled at my packing ability; they all fit. But I couldn’t rest on my laurels for long: I suddenly worried my son would not know where I “hid” them. Was he privy to toiletry bags? When we travel, I always pack and unload the toiletries; he could have easily overlooked this detail. Then the toiletries themselves put me in a tizzy. Most of them were in miniature and brands he’d never seen before. If he didn’t actually read the labels, he might shampoo with lotion or wash with toothpaste. I felt compelled to give him a bit of direction: “This is a toiletry bag, so it has all your stuff you need to wash yourself. I’d just take the bag with you into the bathroom, so you don’t forget anything. This is your lotion and this is your shampoo…” He rolled his eyes. Fine. Good. He had been paying attention to the minutia after all.
When the day arrived, I drove him to the school. He carried his bag with great optimism and difficulty–it was probably 50 pounds–but his teacher told the students that they had to be able to do this alone on the trip, so he proved he could in the parking lot. In the gymnasium, he lugged his bag to the drop-off point and gave me a hug. I welled up when I saw his watery blues looking at me. I made a quick exit so that neither of us had a chance to make a scene.
It’s funny; I don’t recall a teary goodbye or a worried mom hug when I went on my sixth grade trip. I just got on the bus with the stuff I rummaged from home the night before and…went. Maybe my mother was more like the adult me with her first born too. I was the third of four children, after all. Such excursions were old hat for my mother and perhaps that attitude served to make me rather independent. Maybe I wasn’t too choked up because I couldn’t wait to wear makeup. No matter.
He returned from his adventure happy, wiser and unscathed. He even managed to bring everything home. He also had a funny story. The students were allowed only three-minute showers. In his frenzy to shampoo, he grabbed a bottle from his toiletry bag and squirted to no avail. He soon realized it was sealed because it was new (thanks, Mom), so he had to unscrew the lid and peel off the protective foil. This took great effort and time. But finally, he was able to squirt a generous portion into his hand. Just as he was about to lather up, he noticed his folly: it was not shampoo; it was lotion. “One minute warning!” he heard.
With the clock ticking, he flung the lotion off his hand and grabbed the next bottle he could find, then squirted to no avail (thanks, Mom, again). He ripped off the foil and lathered his head with…body wash. He barely made it out of the shower without suds. Although I wanted to roll my eyes when he told me the story (like he did when I gave him a tutorial on reading labels), I just laughed (and plotted to write this article).
After hearing his story, I feel my worrying was a little justified. But worrying made not one bit of difference. No matter what I say, he’s going to have to figure things out on his own. Just like I did.
I look forward to seeing the overnight camp slide show at the end of the year. I feel pretty confident that he won’t be wearing blue eyeliner, but you never know… If you don’t read labels, strange things can happen.