Wednesday, August 17, 2011

1 Parent + 8 Children + Camping = Lots of Lessons Learned

John would have loved to join us, but being the bread winner, he was expected to work during the Tuesday through Thursday camp-out to which our family was invited by a neighboring church. I’d been camping alone with the kids before, back when there were only five, and I had a different husband, and this time would be much easier, because I had able-bodied pre-teens and teens to help out. It would be a piece of cake.

On the way home from our date the afternoon before I was to drive the 3 ½ hours over high mountainous Mexican roads, I said to John that I knew there would be unexpected circumstances, but that I hoped there wouldn’t be terribly unpleasant unexpected circumstances. He chuckled.

Here are a few things I did right….

1. First of all, it is necessary to explain that it was my ultimate goal to be completely self-sustaining. I would borrow nothing. If we did not have it, I would do without. I would never ask for help. If the kids and I couldn’t do it, it simply wouldn’t be done. Yes, this seems like a prideful attitude to adopt, but I didn’t want to go away from the camp-out being known as the needy camp widow who was unprepared and could do nothing for herself. Now that that is understood, let’s get back to what I did right… We brought our own firewood. John had been camping in the said area many times and told us that it would rain every afternoon and probably most nights. We didn’t need the headache of trying to build a fire with wet wood, so I knew I wouldn’t regret bringing our own. It turned out that we ended up giving away some to those who were less prepared. I was well on the road to accomplishing my ultimate prideful goal.

2. I brought clothesline and clothes pins. I wouldn’t have thought of it, except that I had referred to the camping list I blogged last year, and remembered how often I had wished I had a way to easily hang up wet clothing.

3. I brought lots of extra changes of clothes for the 4 five and under, and at least two extra pairs of shoes for everyone. What with the outhouse being across a wide stream, this paid off.

4. I used up a good deal of packing space to pack the pack ‘n’ play. The baby slept like he’d worked as hard as I did all day, from 8:00 to a little before 7:00 AM. It was beautiful.

5. I counted on the 16-year-old girl to plan and pack for three lunches. She left nothing to chance as far as the food, dishes and preparatory utensils were concerned. She even wrote the menu down on a sheet of paper and taped it to the ice chest so everyone would be aware what each lunch would be.

Now, for the things I did wrong…

1. I did not THOROUGHLY check every single piece of camping gear the teenagers were in charge of packing. I should have said, “Show me the lanterns… all of them” and “Show me the folding table” and “Show me the poles and stakes for each tent. When we arrived at the camp grounds, it was pouring hard. The 15-year-old boy had been in the back of the truck for three hours, making sure the tarp didn’t come up, and he was drenched. It was in this downpour that we began setting up the tents, just so the little kids would have a place to play out of the rain. We had a large 3-room tent, but when the 16-year-old girl and I began to put it together, it became immediately apparent that there were many poles missing. Where tent poles go is a mystery to me, but regardless of where they went, they were not in the bag. It was still pouring.

Fortunately the kids had packed all the tents we owned, even though I had asked them not to, so we were covered (no pun intended).

We set up our camp near a small lovely stream. I thought it would be wonderful to hear it trickle through the woods as we slept in our tents. I studied it carefully and observed that a few other families were set up next to it as well, and I thought to myself that there could be no way that the stream would overflow to the level of our tents because it had already been raining so much. If that didn’t cause the stream to overflow, I didn’t think anything would. (Foreshadowing)

2. I set up our camp near a small, lovely stream. After finally getting our camp set up, we enjoyed about an hour of leisure time, then ate our evening meal together. One man mentioned how much he admired me for setting up camp all by myself with “all those kids”. I told him that I didn’t do it alone, but that the kids had been an amazing help to me, especially the teenagers. He looked puzzled for a moment, then recognition came to his eyes as he understood that the dark-skinned young man in the cowboy hat was my son. Most people in our American community have farms and ranches. These enterprises are usually managed or worked upon by real Mexican cowboys. This gentleman thought that I had brought my cowboy to help me drive and set up. After realizing that no, this was my son, he was even more impressed.

After wonderful food and great conversation, we all settled in to our individual campsites. The kids had helped so much, that even though the 16-year-old girl said she would stay and help me put the kids to bed, I thought she should go spend time with her friends. She, along with the 15-, 11- and 9-year-olds did just that. After putting Baby Hippo to bed in his crib, Twin A in my double sleeping bag, Twin B in his own sleeping bag, and the 5-year-old boy in his very own little pup tent, I sat by the fire and drank a cup of very hot chocolate, just the way I like it. I listened to our fellow campers, warmed my feet, and marveled at the beauty of God’s earth, even though it was too dark to see. I love the outdoors. Eventually I went into my tent and took out my flashlight and the novel I was reading and read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.

At about 1:00 I was awakened by the sound of rain drumming against the tarp covering my tent. I smiled, because I love it when it rains at night when I’m in a tent. I feel so cozy and protected inside and there were no were leaks that I could see. I feel back to sleep, even though my air mattress had already entirely deflated.

At 3:00, I awoke again to the sound of quiet voices and flashlights outside my tent. It was still raining. This concerned me a bit because that meant it had been raining for at least two hours and I began to wonder about the level of the stream near our tent. I pulled out my book again, and my flashlight, and read for about an hour, putting my book down every few minutes to concentrate and listen to what was going on outside, wondering what it could be. Finally, at about 4:00, I decided to get dressed and see what the commotion was about. When I placed my hand on the floor of the tent to get up, it felt exactly like a waterbed. There must have been about 4 inches of water directly under my tent. This was of great concern to me, because I didn’t know how long the tent would actually keep the water out. I stood up, unzipped the tent door, and immediately stepped into the trench the 15-year-old boy had dug for me, which was filled with at least 12 inches of water…. 8 inches in the trench, and 4 on the ground…. where the stream had completely engulfed our tent. I just stood there, looking at the water, then at my tent, then at the 5-year-old boy’s tent. My attention was then drawn to a flashlight, and I saw that the 15-year-old boy had moved his tent, which had been even closer to the stream. Someone had come and helped him, probably the same people who had camped just as close to the stream as we did. He told me that his helpers had asked if he thought they should move my tent, too, and he said, “Nah, she’ll be okay.” Sounds heartless, I know, but honestly, I DID NOT want to move the four kids out of the tent, into the rain, while the tent was moved. I thought, “Surely the rain with stop and the stream will go down and even though some of the things in my tent are a little tiny bit damp, I can easily dry them out in the morning, by the fire.

So the 15-year-old boy and I moved the 5-year-old boy and his sleeping bag into his brother’s tent, which was now on safe ground, and I went back to bed.

I awoke again at 6:00. It was still raining. I knew this was a very bad sign. Again, when I stepped out of my sleeping bag onto my tent floor, I experienced the waterbed sensation, but this time, my hand was actually in the water. Everything in our tent was soaked, from the sleeping bags, to the suitcases with all of our clothes, to the pile of blankets I had neatly folded in the corner, to my precious purse.

So I roused the children, got them out of the tent and sat them by the fire, and started hauling our belongings out of our tent. My biggest fear that was the sun would never come out, as it had stayed hidden the previous day, and that our sleeping bags wouldn’t dry, forcing us to sleep in damp beds that night. Because there was nothing else to be done, the 15-year-old boy made a big fire and with the 16-year-old girl’s help we were able to hang all of our belongings on the line we’d strung up by the fire and on nearby trees.

While we were working, my dear friend came to visit and saw the devastation to our tent. She said, “We need to get the brethren over here to help you move!” I said, “No! I’ll be fine. The kids and I can move the tent.” “No,” she said, “You need the brethren.”

So the brethren came, and they moved our tent, and diligently strung up a tarp over it, two even, to protect us from the water that would surely fall that night. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t very grateful that they did that for me. Thanks, Bishop and the other brethren!

And because of God’s great mercy, the sun did come out that day and dried all of our clothes and sleeping bags and blankets.

3. I did not bring a baby-carrying back pack or small back packs to take food and water in for a hike.

On the last day we were there, a large group decided to go up to the falls. Of course I encouraged the four oldest to go, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hike with the four little ones alone. As I waved goodbye from my camp chair, the bishop drove by and said, “Aren’t you coming?” I said no, that I had too many little kids, but you have fun, and he said, “NO! You need to come. It’s only a short hike and they bring toddlers and babies up there all the time. Come on. Get in the truck.” How could I refuse?

Now I was excited to go. We loaded up the twins and the 5-year-old in the back of his truck with nearly a dozen other kids and headed off to the river crossing. When we arrived, I looked at the river with great fear. The bishop’s daughter, whose legs were wet to the tops of her thighs said, “Dad, the river’s deeper than it was last time. I don’t think we’re going to make it." The bishop waved his arm and said “Of course we’ll make it!” He zoomed around the two other trucks in front of him and pulled up right in front of the river. One of the brethren came up to his window and said, “Bishop, it’s higher than before. You’re not going to make it.” The Bishop said, “Sure, we’ll make it!” and he began driving into the river. My heart raced, and with good reason, because in no time the water was coming up over the hood of the truck and into the cab of the truck. My feet were getting wet again. A few seconds later, the back of the truck, filled with tiny children, began to float sideways. The bishop put on the brakes, was able to get some traction, and backed up. He looked out the window to the brother he had spoken with before and said with a smile on his face, “We’re not going to make it!”

But of course, as men always do, they found a way to cross, having the largest of all the trucks go first and pull a smaller one behind it. It was via this means that we drove up to the hiking spot to the falls.

My excitement continued as we went over rocky and muddy terrain, and I had an animated conversation with the people in the front of the truck. When we finally arrived to the hiking spot, I was ready to go. So we started walking, and what I thought would be a simple trail turned into a very long uphill, rocky hike. I was carrying Baby Hippo on my hip, who weighs nearly 30 pounds, my very large camera bag, and my purse (for diapers and wet wipes). Five minutes into the hike, I thought I was going to die. And the teenagers, who I had been counting on to help with Baby Hippo, had run forward and were completely out of sight. I cursed the bishop under my breath (just mild Mormon cursing, like “That darn bishop!”) and kept telling myself over and over again, “I’m burning calories. I’m burning calories.” It was then that I realized that when the bishop said that "toddlers and babies go", he meant that strong fathers carried their babies up to the falls. And yes, other people offered to carry Baby Hippo, but the stubborn little cuss wouldn’t go to anyone but me. The twins and 5-year-old would hold other’s hands, though, so I didn’t have to worry about them getting to the falls.

By the time we arrived, over rocky terrain and through slippery streams, I was completely spent. And I needed to go to the bathroom. However, even though I’m adept at going to the bathroom in outdoorsy settings, there were only two places to go here: next to the stream, or up the mountain. My first choice was next to the stream. So I asked the 11-year-old boy to care for Baby Hippo and I began walking. When I finally found a secluded area, I looked a little further to see that the teenagers had found this secluded area first, so, as per my only other option, it was up the mountain for me. I began climbing. The 16-year-old girl, among all of her friends, male and female, saw me and yelled, “MOM! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” I yelled back, “I’M GOING TO THE BATHROOM!” A minute or so later, I heard her male friend ask, “What is your mom doing?” “She’s going to the bathroom.” Could I BE any more humiliated, due to the fact that teenagers were watching me climb up a mountain, and I wasn’t graceful, so I could go to the bathroom? ARGGGHH!

And the climbing was difficult. I had to pull myself up with tufts of grass and branches and find foot holds and test them to make sure they didn’t give way. About forty feet up, I finally found a clump of trees that would hide me from the teenagers. As I climbed toward it, I knew that I had no idea how I was going to get off that mountain.

So I did my business and began the treacherous descent. And I did exactly what I thought I would do. I slid, grasping for the tufts of grass, and branches, some of which would break, some of which would hold. My knee caught hold of a rock once, which left 7 or 8 gashes across it, and lots of mud on my pants. I don’t think the teenagers saw me though, so that’s all the mattered.

After catching my breath, I was able to take out my camera and enjoy myself. I did find the 15-year-old boy, however, and said, “Do NOT leave here without taking Baby Hippo. You are in charge of him on the way back.”

The falls were beautiful and the kids had a great time playing in them and in their runoff. It was something we all enjoyed, so Bishop, thanks for talking me into it! It was the highlight of our trip.

When I’ve told some of my friends about my experiences, some of them have asked, “Why didn’t you just go home?” My answer is because I LOVE camping! I love the adventure, and the self-sufficient feeling of making your own fire and cooking food over it and the smell of campfire smoke and how the baby is happy all day because he’s outside and hot chocolate in camp chairs and sitting and talking with friends and family because the demands of the world don’t exist when you’re camping. And I can’t wait until the next time!

Below are a few of my favorite photos from the trip. I will tell a little bit and/or share my feelings about each one. Thanks for listening!

Our tent, encompassed by the stream...


A wider angle view, which I included just because my favorite quilt is hanging on the line in the background...


The 16-year-old girl hanging up clothes to dry while the 15-year-old boy stokes the fire and the twins study the stream. It was amazing how helpful the older kids were. I couldn't have done the trip without them...


The "cowboy", with the twins, just enjoying the fire...


The stream we had to cross every time we needed to use the outhouse. What with walking myself and four little boys over numerous times per day, my feet pretty much stayed wet continuously...


Baby Hippo, enjoying the campfire just as much as everyone else did...


The 11-year-old boy, chopping wood...


It was astonishing how much wood he actually chopped. I didn't know 11-year-old boys could chop wood, but thanks to the teaching of one of the brethren, he learned some tricks and did it with ease. I never had to worry about not having chopped wood for the fire. Here he is looking pensively after finishing up for the afternoon...


Lots of kids playing in a shallow stream...


This is a special baby who was born several weeks premature. She's 3 months old in the photo, but she still weighs less than nine pounds. She was the tiniest baby I had ever seen in real life. But she always was and still is beautiful...


The following are photos taken by a friend who absconded with my camera. For not knowing how to use a DSLR, she did pretty well! It was fun going back to edit her work, not having any idea what I would find on my memory card!

There were lots of little blond girls running around. This one is probably my friends daughter. I love how she's bounding....


I love the expression on this boy. I think he is my friend's only son. I'm not sure if he's annoyed or just chilling, but it looks like he rules the roost...


I love everything about this photo, from the clarity of the little girl's facial expression, to the kids frolicking in the background...


I do not know who this man is. He is probably the husband of one of my friends, but since they are all related, I can never keep them straight, and I don't even try. All I know is that he looks manly with his intimidating scowl and his Diet Coke.


My friend did find it in herself to take a few pictures of my kids (Just kidding, she took lots of pics of my kids), and here is one of my favorites of the 9-year-old girl...


Here's how many campers got around, especially to the outhouse...


Me, and the sun-bleached 5-year-old boy. I adore his hair...


More ATV-riding, this time with at least 4 little blond girls in tow...


Now, I have the camera again, at the falls...

The cowboy, having climbed up behind the falls...


The 11-year-old boy, protecting himself from the sting of the falls, then up close out of the falls...


The son and daughter of the previous photographer, watching their dad in the falls...


Twin A. I love photography like this where only one thing is in focus. Here, it's his eyelashes. I adore how the sun shines on his hair in the foreground...


And I LOVE the sun on Twin B's hair in this photo...


I couldn't get enough of the little girl's hair. She (and perhaps her mother) began to be annoyed with me for taking so many pictures, but to me, it was worth it...


The falls. I don't think this photo does justice to how high there were, but if you look at the people at the bottom of the falls, you should get some idea...


And last, but not least, how we went home from the falls...


I'd like to give a public thanks to the congregation that invited our family to join them. We had a great time, got to know some fabulous people, and we can't wait to do it again!


C said...

Awesome camping story! I think you are amazing with all of your preparation, and your kids are so great and good workers. I am dying to know where this site was!
It was so fun to read this, your photography and writing are amazing!

Randall and Christy Hatch said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post and the "exciting" time you had camping!

Luvmy9 said...

What a great adventure you had. You're a brave (not prideful) woman! It's wonderful your kids are having such great experiences.
Love you.

Elder Romney's mission said...

Loved hearing about your adventure, for some reason your pictures wouldn't come up, I will check back later! Mss you guys! I'd come home if my kids weren't having so much fun!

Expat Mom said...

What an adventure! I enjoy camping myself and have actually lived in a tent twice in my life. Your kids are going to have a BLAST recalling the time Mom's tent nearly washed away, so not only did you have an interesting time, you're making amazing memories for the future. :)

Brian + Cheryl B. said...

hi Jen :-)

I bet when John chuckled when you had shared how you "hoped there wouldn’t be terribly unpleasant unexpected circumstances", he was also wearing a bemused expression.

While it is good to be self-sustaining, it is just as good to ask for help. How or why? We all love to be the one to help somebody else. We feel blessed that we were able to do so. We know we are following God's instructions in doing so. Etc.

however, if we don't allow others to help us, we are depriving them of those blessings. AND, we are depriving ourselves of their demonstrations of love (another form of blessing!).

It has to be a two way street!
Now, about the part of it being important to be self sufficient. It too does come into affect.

If you were to show up with very few of the things that your family needed while camping, you would have then become a burden on the rest of the group. They would have felt they HAD to help, especially since you had all of the kids in tow and all. That then puts them in the position of fighting resentment and bitterness, and it's wrong for you to put them in that position, when action of your own could have easily prevented it. In this point you are right, you WOULD have "go(ne) away from the camp-out being known as the needy camp widow who was unprepared and could do nothing for herself. "

Does all of that make sense?

I was so-o thrilled earlier this year, when a son came and asked me for the list that I always use to check off every time we went camping. He remembered how we would add things to the list if while camping we wished we'd brought the item. He had stated that he knew if he went off of my list, they'd be really glad they had about half way through their weekend. :-D

As you know, I am very much a "list" girl! I'm so proud that you thought to use yours too! ;->

That 16 year old girl of yours has a very wise head on her shoulders! Smart move hanging the list where all could find it and act according to it!! :-]

I always assigned one child to stand next to our camper and check each item off as it was actually placed inside the camper. I had a copy of the list inside the house that I was working off of. that way, the items I pulled didn't get sat elsewhere and end up missing in action between point a (the house) and point b (the camper). Thankfully for you, their over zealousness made up for their lack of checking details. ("Love it when a plan comes together" ;->).


Brian + Cheryl B. said...

part 2 -
Not sure how to word this part, so please bear in mind that I AM your friend!

I am glad that you let the 16 year old girl go off with her friends, instead of staying and helping get the young ones down for the night. On the other hand, I'm not so sure it was "fair" to make the son carry your youngest back from the long hike.

See Jen, I have been in their shoes. My youngest brother was born shortly before my 13th birthday. And he too was a BIG baby at birth! 10 pounds 12 ounces. The situation became that every day when I arrived home from school, I had to take over the care giving of that brother. And when we went places. And when... I LOVED my little brother, but oft times I became very resentful about how mom had had him on purpose, but was always too busy socializing or whatever with people her own age, to want to be bothered by a young son, and thus always handed off the responsibility to me. I wasn't allowed to schedule anything except youth group activities, with out first making sure they (her and dad) didn't already have some social event scheduled. And they were v-e-r-y involved!

Yes, older children learn responsibility, accountability, etc. by helping with their younger siblings. But they still need time for the growing through socializing with friends their own age, learning through some freedoms, etc. before they get tied down due to having children of their own.

Jen, like I said, I AM your friend! And I am not trying to be super critical or hurt you, or anything else along those lines. My objective is simply to make sure that you try and look at it from your older kids perspectives on a regular basis too - not just the perspective of what would be of the most help to you.

I truly hope you are not offended!

Might I suggest that the next time you venture forth camping, you lay your sleeping bags out on top of inflated rafts, with paddles attached? o;-p Hey, the rafts would feel similar to air mattresses. chuckle, chuckle...

Thank-you for taking the time to post each picture individually with writing in between them! I KNOW that takes time... but it makes the pictures ever so much easier to look at. And thus, much more enjoyable!

Your "cowboy" could easily be a model for western type clothing or scenes!! Handsome young dude!

Bringing dry wood with you is a very smart move! And having a son learn how to chop it with ease is quite the bonus!!

The way the 11 year old boys ribs are sticking out, perhaps the 16 year old girl needs to pack more food labeled only for him. ;-p

Glad you 'survived' your trip! I bet the kids have great tales to tell from it - aka: memories!! :-D

Life Happens said...

What an adventure! My favorite picture is the cowboy under the falls. Beautiful/handsome kids.
You look fabulous too!

Kristin said...

Two words: WOW!