Camping Stories

Hannah on my left, wearing a sleeveless summer nightgown and a pair of pink pants, tucked into her pink floral sleeping bag that isn’t even zipped up.

Samuel on my right, a glow stick necklace loose around his neck, sock-less because he insisted he wouldn’t need them – a decision he would regret later in the night.

The three of us squished on a queen-size air mattress that would steadily lose air through the night, resulting in my butt or hip bones being directly on the ground. I stayed warm, as one puppy stays warm squished in the middle of the litter in a basket two sizes too small…but I was rarely comfortable.


The squished green bag? Yeah. Mine.

And Daniel on Samuel’s right, on his self-inflating 2-inch air mattress, purchased that day in hopes it would be kinder to his still-hurting back.

All in all, nothing remarkable. Just another camping trip, all of us snuggled together, squirming, jostling for space and light, whining about the challenge of changing clothes lying down, fumbling for flashlights and glasses and the water bottle, thinking “it can’t get that cold tonight.”

But it felt different.

Our children are older now, though still young at 8 and 6, and the conversation this time was different even from six months ago (that November night when it absolutely did get that cold).

We talked about what we’d done that day, about the glow stick party out in the big field, under that waxing gibbous moon (which hardly one Cub Scout noticed, being all fully enthralled and fixated on bending, molding, and swinging their glowing sticks at each other). Daniel and I told Samuel how proud of him we were, for getting the next Cub Scout achievement, for being part of his den’s skit during the program, for playing with the other boys (Samuel is usually content to play alone). We asked Hannah what she and Madison did all day – and we should have known better, because she happily and energetically proceeded to give us a blow by blow account of every doll, every pretend game, every little thing she and her friend did.

Okay so here’s what I really want to get to: the part after we good-humoredly argued about whether or not to listen to The Hardy Boys on audio, and whether or not Mama should go sit by the campfire and do her writing “assignment.”

Taking a mental deep breath, I opted instead to make up a story to tell my kids. I know parents do this all the time, all the world over – stories totally made up, or stories from childhood (personal or passed down – sometimes rather “embellished”), or classic tales from their culture. Some parents, like Paul Fillmore, even make up songs, which is so impressive I’m in total awe.

So I took the loosest outlines of a story Colin Firth told to his daughters in his role as King George in The King’s Speech, and made up my own version about an Antarctica penguin who always wanted to wear a coat and tie, while all the other penguins wore polka dot pajamas. This penguin eventually learned he was a prince (I left out how, exactly, he learned this), and swam a long arduous journey from Antarctica to the English Channel, whereupon he hopped on board the Kensington Express and arrived back at the palace in time for tea. And lived – clad in coat and tie – happily ever after.

Oh, and his name was Flipperdegibt.

The kids roared with delight and approval. My heart soared with pride – a mix of the bad kind, that narcissistic constant craving for approval, and the good kind: I made up a story for my kids! I was creative to entertain them! What an excellent use of the gifts of storytelling and creativity – to delight easily-pleased children, to demonstrate to them that they, too, can make up their own stories, can be as creative as they wish.

My friend Dave says that when we create we are like God. God’s nature is to create, which you would think any half-awake fool could see (though of course many people are not even that awake…that’s another topic altogether). He says he suspects that’s what the Biblical phrase “in His image He created them” is referring to – our capacity to create.

I think he’s on to something. (Dave usually is.)

We returned to the good-natured debate about whether or not to listen to The Hardy Boys audio book. I tried to make the case that my making up a story more than offset the lack of The Hardy Boys – because of course in my mind it was an epic achievement – but they didn’t believe me.

I was saved by Hannah, who announced she would make up a story, eliciting a groan from Samuel and half-hearted cheers from me and Daniel.

But she didn’t so much make up a story as give us all extraordinarily insightful nicknames: Samuel was “Whiney Mae,” I was “Yellie Mae,” Daniel was “Bossy Mae” (a surprise to me, since I rarely think of Daniel as bossy, but apparently he seems such to Hannah?), and she dubbed herself “Party Mae.” Oh, and her Uncle Seth, my brother who lives with us, she gave the moniker “Mind Your Own Business Mae.”


The girl has us pegged.

And we all laughed at our own nicknames, made other, increasingly sillier, suggestions, and basically spent the next several minutes telling inside jokes and laughing.

That air mattress shook – like Santa’s bowl full of jelly – with our belly laughs.

And I could taste the holiness in the air. Anne Lamott says laughter is carbonated holiness, and I could practically feel the fizz on my tongue.

And then we drifted to sleep. It was a terribly restless night for me, what with Hannah’s knees jammed into my left side and Samuel’s whole body jammed into my right as he sought warmth; the God-knows-what kind of concert booming its bass line from some venue across the water, until well after midnight; Samuel cold and unable to sleep, then sneezing and sniffling; Daniel scrounging for a snack bar, all the baffling and infuriating rustling like a mouse under the floor; the slow but inexorable loss of air from our mattress.

But that half hour before we drifted – the tent was filled with delightful, memorable bonding, the kind that makes your heart swell and plasters the broadest smile on your face and makes you lose all self-consciousness in the pure joy of being Family.

And the next morning – well, let’s not go there. Let’s dwell on and hold tight to that night, the tent glowing with a dozen-plus glow sticks, and bubbling with carbonated holiness.

Published in: on October 4, 2016 at 1:46 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Beautiful. 🙂 I’m not surprised you write and tell stories so well. You ARE your mother’s daughter. Plus your dad was a great preacher! The nut … er I mean apple … didn’t fall far from the tree.

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