“I’ve changed my mind about letting the girls go to the bathroom alone because I had a bad incident myself late last night” Said one Indian Princess dad to another over the “Chuck Wagon” grill centering our campsite. What had happened to this formerly confident father in the bathroom? Was it going to a big enough incident to save me from ever having to go camping again? Dare I hope? Dare I use this as an excuse with my own husband to insure it?
Every parent has to establish his or her own comfort level. And I was soon to discover how comfort levels are built and re-built on this, my second family camping trip, with the YMCA Indian Princesses.
But first let me start my telling you that I hate camping. And if you’ve read any of my other columns it is only one thing on a long list of many things that I deem go well-beyond my comfort level: Cooking, cleaning, packing, painting, working garage sales, wind, rain, trying on swim suits…the list is endless.
Samantha, my eight-year-old, asked her dad what he was going to do to make this trip more comfortable for me. Eddie, on the other hand, the hand that runs a scant six fire stations, just gave a wry smile in return that I knew meant I had to “buck up”.
So after arriving at Mc Grath state beach in Oxnard, and then setting up camp, and then comparing the tents sized for adults against our own, and then moving our tent to a shadier more desirable spot sandwiched between two other bigger tents, and then hearing of smarter absent mothers that were enjoying facials and pedicures that weekend instead, and then borrowing the one mega-air pump for the ever-deflating air mattress, and then, finally, I got a meager payoff from one glass of wine with a decent restaurant meal after we LEFT said camp site.
Our family was joined by my new best friend Linda who brought along her husband Augie and daughter Kelsey, I knew Rick and his daughter Anna already, the New Chief Eric and his family, former Chief Brett and his, Dave and his wife THAT READS MY COLUMNS, and of course there was James and his passel of kids that had always I envied.
So back to my opening paragraph teaser. I listened to other parents establish the rules for their children when we got back to the campsite and I was left to grapple with establishing any of my own. Would I ever let Samantha go to the bathroom alone or just with another eight-year-old? Was their poison oak around? Were the bathrooms kept well lit? What kind of animals were those quick furry rodents tunneling beneath us? Could the squirrels or rabbits want our food? How far away from the fire pit should the kid’s stand while roasting marshmallows for the promised Smores I was already craving? (And why couldn’t you order Smores in a restaurant? Why do you only get this truly decadent dessert if you agree, so unwillingly, to join a “camp”?)
Did the other mothers wonder about the many trips the men took without us in attendance? Were the men as equipped as we to protect our children? Did they let our little girls wander around the campgrounds, bathrooms and Chuck Wagons alone while the dads meal-planned and grunted?
What was seen in the bathroom alone was enough to convince me that it was something to write about. For this one Cocopa tribe dad it was watching an obviously drunken man, not with the YMCA, try to put together and possibly launch a crossbow. The worst I had encountered in the ladies bathroom were glares from other women that wanted my mirror, shower stall and sink a LOT quicker than I chose to relinquish.
I followed Eddie and Sam down to the waves the next day still pondering Ed’s expertise as a camper. I brought a camera thinking I may get a good photo of dad in charge and the mishaps that were sure to follow. I ended up with something completely different. The keeper is the one of my only child and husband braving the cold water in their wetsuits and Bogie boards for the first time. Finally beginning to relax, and enjoying Smores-to-go, we were all able to focus on “nature”: The sand, surf, seaweed, driftwood and calm. (Was I really camping?)
Later, in the evening, the men bent over a hot grill to serve the entire “Nation”. We ladies set up our lawn chairs in front of the entertainer’s teepee while the kids got comfortable on what appeared to be blankets of real buffalo skins. I had seen this Indian couple perform before and couldn’t wait for the evening’s entertainment.
They told stores in full Indian dress and makeup, entertained with a comical ventriloquist duo, then the gentleman played a flute after instructing us to close our eyes and just imagine, and for a finale, danced. The children were completely mesmerized. The parents relaxed watching either the show itself or how it played across their children’s faces. Later came the “graduations” and more patches for the suede vests. I decided I should have gotten Sam the larger vest and knew, at the very minimum, that I had to buy that extra square of leather to attach to the back of her existing one to accommodate her three new patches.
The following morning was the ritual reading of an Indian themed story and good-byes. And reminders of what being part of the Indian Princess program is all about. I was beginning to recall that I had entered last year’s camping trip in the same state of mind as this year. And had left with a new one. But it had been a year and I needed to be reminded that an activity with your dad was something a child needs. Times that I definitely hadn’t had with my own divorced dad.
And, SCV dads out there, that brings me to membership. I found out on this trip that the YMCA needs new members to keep the Indian Princess program going! And I know that you fathers, when left alone, prove to be just as great as any mother to bond and protect! So, why in the world wouldn’t you want the opportunity to do just that? Of course there is the chance that you hate camping. But grunting over a Chuck Wagon? Come on.