Parenting in the Great Outdoors

by Earle Jones

Ah, Children. Some call them nature's way of forcing us to grow up. It wasn't until the early 80's that I felt confident enough with my outdoor skills to include my two children, then only 3 and 5 years old on my weekend jaunts. The usual complaints; the bugs, the bumps, the things that go bump in the night were to be expected. Because we spent so much time exploring Provincial and National Parks, it soon became apparent that, much to our own parents' chagrin, bringing up baby in an outdoor environment was destined to be a constant subject of dinner conversation and the center of countless side-splitting stories. We quickly realized that to survive in the civilized world, a second etiquette needed to be implemented. For Example:
* It's OK to lick your plates clean in the outdoors but not at Grandma's house. Her heart just won't take it.
* Rolling in the mud will keep the mosquitoes from biting in the outdoors but Aunt Karen won't appreciate it while you're sitting around her pool.
* Use your fingers to eat around the campfire but lose them if you try at the Church Pot Luck.
One memorable time involving conflicting manners occurred at a family barbecue. Nathan, my oldest, had just dropped a piece of chicken on the ground. He reached down to pick it up and before the eyes of 20 horrified family members, all of whom later appeared to be contemplating cutting us out of their wills, wiped it off on his pant leg and resumed his meal. Neither his mother nor I thought anything of it until we glanced around the table and immediately gave Nathan "the look" to which he responded with the infamous, "What?... What?.... What did I do?" all the while, our feet flailing wildly under the table hoping to connect with his tender shins.

Ah, Children. They've been called a gift from God. But sometimes one has to ask. What was God thinking? Now looking on the bright side, it's nice to know that God has a sense of humor. Sometimes lessons learned in the outdoors are the most unforgettable and, more often than not, learned the hard way. One such lesson involved the cardinal rule that all food must be packed away from the sleeping area at night and never, never, never bring food into the tent. One exceptionally bright, moonlit night during one of our frequent trips to the Adirondacks in upper New York State, my daughter, Hilary decided that rules are made to be challenged and it was her indisputable calling to do just that. A hungry and curious raccoon had found the aroma emanating from the Mars bar that she smuggled into the tent just too irresistible and silently chewed his way through the side wall. Nothing can compare with the pandemonium that ensued when she opened her eyes to find herself face to face with the startled, masked bandit. The cost to repair the tent and the zipper of her sleeping bag as both she and the little thief fought to extricate themselves from their individual perplexities was well worth it. As the laughter from my wife, son, and myself finally began to die down (after numerous revivals and a considerable length of time), we assessed the damage, conducted makeshift repairs with duct tape and fell back to sleep. All except Hilary, I presume. Not a word was spoken again about the consequences of eating in the tent and, evidently, it was never an issue.

Ah, children. We are given the awesome responsibility of teaching, nurturing, protecting and providing for them and, as profound as parenting is, nothing matches the satisfaction of the occasional "I told you so" as long as we keep it to ourselves. During those formative years, my wife and I home-schooled our two children. Field trips were frequent and consisted of nature walks and canoe expeditions. One day Hilary asked me why people would wrinkle their foreheads and shake their heads whenever we stopped by for a visit. "It's because they think we're different and don't understand why we love the outdoors so much," I would tell her. Eccentric, weird, unorthodox, peculiar, strange, bizarre more accurately described their reactions but some things are better left unsaid.

Those moments, before the dying campfire, when thoughts become words and your child's deepest feelings become weighty enough to tell you about, cannot be duplicated around the radioactive glow of the television. Some of our best conversations have occurred in the outdoors. Perhaps the Call of the Wild is also a human voice. Ah, children. How they enrich your life. Any regrets? Only one. They grow up too quickly.


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