Why I Go Camping with the Progeny

Cleaning up this afternoon, I found our camping journal. I read a couple pages and was immediately transported back to our summer trips. Then I found this page, which captures all the reasons I take #1 and #2 camping. It does’t get any simpler or clearer than this:

#1’s thoughts during a recent camping trip.

#1 jots down some thoughts during a recent camping trip.

I can’t wait to go camping with them again.

Camping with the Progeny

Over the past year the progeny and I have started camping together. When I first took them, I hoped they would have fun. I could not have predicted how much fun we all would have. Now, once each month we pick some state park and head off for two or three nights. After a couple weeks without a camping trip, both #1 and #2 start asking when we’re going again and where? They pull our Best Tent Camping in Pennsylvania off the shelf and start flagging places they would like to visit.[1]

We take a journal—the Field Notes “Expedition” journal because it’s weather proof and strong—and set of waterproof pens with us each time and each evening take turns writing in it or drawing pictures of things that interested us. I recently looked back at our first journal and marveled at what they noticed and chose to record (our drawings are a bit more rudimentary, but we all mean well).

Looking out over Lake Jean one lazy Thursday afternoon.

Looking out over Lake Jean one lazy Thursday afternoon.

In our hyper-connected society where people check their smart phones 150 times a day (or about 10 times per waking hour) in any context,[2] in our screen-saturated society where it is difficult to escape the barrage of moving images,[3] a few days without cell reception and without electricity is indescribably pleasant. I cherish the undistracted time with #1 and #2, sitting by the fire, hiking or exploring, skipping stones across a pond, turning over rocks hoping to find little creatures, looking at stars, lying in our tent telling ghost stories. The days are filled with conversation and laughter and questions. Just the three of us. I learn a lot about what interests them and how they explore the world. I realize just how wonderful they are—as children and as people.


  1. As we make our way around the state parks we are slowly updating the Best Camping in Pennsylvania book. Stay tuned for a link to a new, “Camping PA” page.  ↩

  2. The Meeker report is the source of this commonly repeated number. The report includes all sorts of other interesting information, e.g., the percentage of internet traffic that is moving to smart phones and other mobile devices, the amount of information we “share” and the number of social networks we use to share that information. Regardless of your thoughts about social networks and (over)sharing, time and attention are zero-sum games. You cannot simultaneously be present in your experience and be sharing that experience. Every moment spent online is a moment not spent offline.  ↩

  3. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey found that people spend another 2.8 hours of leisure time a day watching TV (this doesn’t include computers or tablets). Recent research has raised real questions about the effects of so much time in front of screens (see also the NPR report, “Kids and Screen Time”).  ↩

The Important of “Me Time” on My Schedule

Incessant, relentless, unremitting, parenting is exhausting. We all need some restorative time to ourselves now and then. With that in mind, I had assumed the Mother would enjoy this weekend to Herself while I take #1 and #2 camping. So I was caught by surprise when She seemed not as excited as I had anticipated.

A moment’s reflection would have made me realize why She is not excited about my taking #1 and #2 away for the weekend. On the one hand, She recently had a weekend to herself—just last month I took the progeny camping. So, Her need for time alone is less acute than it was a month ago. On the other hand, and I think more importantly, I cannot schedule Her time alone. I cannot know when a break from quotidian parental demands will benefit Her most.[1] I am sure She will at some level appreciate the time to Herself, but I don’t get to count this as a time I “gave Her a break.”

When She takes the progeny with Her on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, cutting me loose to do what I want, I don’t typically find that time alone particularly restorative or credit Her with “giving me a break.”[2] She can’t know when I need time alone or schedule my time alone any more than I can know and schedule Hers.

However well intentioned, offers for time alone should coincide with the beneficiary’s needs for time alone.


  1. Sure, at times I see in the Mothers eyes, hear in Her voice, sense in Her body language that She needs time alone. As I’m sure She sees it in my eyes, hears it in my voice, senses it in my body language. But I cannot preemptively schedule those times.  ↩

  2. Don’t get me wrong, I make the most of the time alone and generally appreciate it, even if I am not relaxing or recuperating.  ↩

Camping through the Shutdown

On a daily basis, the U.S. government’s “shutdown” has little impact on my life. Coincidentally, however, it has derailed our plans this weekend. #1, #2, and I had planned to camp at a local U.S. Forest Service campground. Like so many nonessential parts of the government, the U.S. Forest Service has suspended operations:

U.S. Forest Service webpage for Allegheny National Forest.

U.S. Forest Service webpage for Allegheny National Forest.

While inconvenienced, changing our plans is relatively easy. We can pick one of the many Pennsylvania State Parks.

Looking across a small lake in Hickory Run State Park—taken ca. 1:00 AM during a full moon.

Looking across a small lake in Hickory Run State Park—taken ca. 1:00 AM during a full moon.

But then I started thinking about not having the U.S. Forest Service campgrounds. Sure, I get it: national forests are nonessential, but my life has been enhanced inestimably by the many childhood days I spent camping, hiking, fishing, and backpacking in them. I’m not afraid, yet, that we’ll lose the forest lands, but closures and privatizing them seems suddenly more real than it did two weeks ago. However nonessential U.S. Forest Service lands and campgrounds seem today, they played an important role in my childhood and, I hope, will play a role in #1’s and #2’s.

Camping in the Backyard Wilderness

In our constantly-connected, always-on, cellphone saturated world, it’s easy to forget that sometimes it takes very little to have a fun. #1, #2, and I pitched a tent in the backyard, tossed our sleeping bags into it, and camped out on the untamed wilds of our back lawn. We read ghost stories, chatted, and listened to the crickets until they fell asleep. In the morning we emerged having conquered the great outdoors.

It is remarkably easy to have fun.

Trail Markers and My Museum of Parenting Failures

#1, #2, and I spent a fabulous weekend camping in Hickory Run State Park (the Mother has no interest in camping, ever, anywhere, so the three of us got to spend the weekend together—yay for us). We headed out directly from school Friday afternoon so we could make the most of the weekend. We scrambled across the boulder field Saturday and hiked a few of the trails. Regrettably, on one of our hikes I displayed petulantly bad parenting.

#1 was excited about the trail and, like most young boys, was eager to lead the way and whenever it looked possible to ford the stream. But it was clear, to me, that the trail did not cross the stream. The first time and the second time, I simply said the trail didn’t go that way. The third time, when I must confess it did look plausible that the trail could cross the stream—the rocks were well placed for crossing and were well worn and there seemed to be a trail-looking path on the other side—I snapped: “I told you, the trail doesn’t cross the stream. Do you see a trail marker over there? No, you don’t because I see it over here.”

In hindsight I feel like an ass, a bully, and a bad parent.

Not only has #1 not spent as much time as I have hiking, he also doesn’t know what a trail marker might look like, I didn’t tell him to look for trail markers, I didn’t show him the map. No, I just barked at him for showing enthusiasm and held him accountable for knowledge and know-how he couldn’t possibly have. I missed a perfect opportunity to teach #1 and #2 something. I should have stopped and asked #1 to explain why he thought the trail crossed the stream. I could have told him about trail markers and pointed out that if the trail crossed the stream, we might expect a trail marker to indicate it. We could have looked for one on the far side. When we didn’t find one, we could have looked for a marker on our side of the stream. But instead, I took the lazy way and just barked at him.

Alas, I have yet another exhibit to cram into my Museum of Failed Parenting.