As a recent 4-day weekend drew nearer, I became less and less excited about our plans to enjoy it: drive 5 hours with our three young children to the Michigan Porcupine Mountains, where we would hike one mile into the woods to camp in a "rustic" cabin, (i.e., no running water, no electricity) with a forecast predicting rain, snow and temperatures in the low 40s.
Spending the next few days cold, unshowered, and using an outhouse was losing its appeal -- fast.
Camping, something I've done a lot since childhood, felt more like been-there-done-that than what it used to feel like -- a fun opportunity to experience nature and "rough it" for a few days. Camping just felt less fun and, honestly, even, dare I say, not fun.
My kids think it's great because they get to be like "Little House on the Prairie." As for my husband, he goes fishing - enough said.
Throughout the long weekend, however, I began to see the benefits of camping in a new light:
Learning to be bored. Ask any mother how often she is bored and here's betting most don't even know what the word means. When my kids lament "I'm bored," I bristle with envy - I haven't felt bored in years.
Once we hiked the one mile to our cabin, got unpacked and settled in, I asked, "What's next?!" I felt the urge to fix something, be productive, send some emails, start a cause. Sitting around the cabin, letting the afternoon pass seemed like such a waste.
So many of us go, go, go, work, work, work all the time. It's how we get ahead, be successful. It's our toil and can make us very happy. Being bored, as uncomfortable as it is initially, can eventually turn into relaxation. Research suggests that boredom is good for our bodies, our creativity and our psyche.
I seriously doubt my boredom was really ever true boredom - it was me winding down, letting go just a little and starting to relax.
Unconnected, but connecting. With no cellular service, we had little use for the devices to which we all, admittedly, are addicted (even our littlest has become quite adept at PBSKids.org). My oldest daughter made substantial progress on a book, and my younger children were left with little to do but play "worms" with their sleeping bags.
As for our family, we played the card games that are long forgotten in our daily lives. We sat close, and the kids learned strategy, math and vocabulary the old school way.
I know we aren't the only family that struggles with how to manage screen time, find meaningful ways to connect, and genuinely enjoy each other. And after this weekend, it became clear to me that camping was the very reason we were able to disconnect, and thereby reconnect, so easily.
Meeting the weather where it is. Apparently I had to learn this lesson again, and I did so this past weekend: the best way to cope with annoying weather (which most can agree the Midwest has plenty of) is two-fold: get out in it and then come in from it.
Getting out has always helped me deal better with bad weather, because, let's face it, resistance is futile. The fastest way to succumb to the weather is to go outside - so I hit the trail for a hike. Within 2 minutes, I was warm and the weather bothered me not at all.
While it's not always easy or realistic to get outside and embrace our frigid, windy, dark days, putting on a warm jacket, good hat, gloves and boots and getting outside whenever possible can truly mitigate the deleterious effects of bad weather. For those that experience severe seasonal affective light disorder, there are several ways to cope with the 6 months ahead, and being outdoors is a recognized method.
Let's be honest - our weekend of camping wasn't always perfect. It down poured every time my husband went fishing, and he eventually came down with not just a "man cold," but a real cold.
At times, as will happen, the kids fought and didn't listen. Then, they eventually bastardized an otherwise wholesome game of Mad Libs with words like "butt," "buttcheek," "armpit." That really cracked them up, and they turned silly and obnoxious beyond measure. In turn, I kicked them out of the cabin to have a "time out" in the dark, cold night (which they thought was great fun).
For my part, I've been thinking about the next time we will go camping, and have even suggested another cabin experience once the snow flies. I suppose you could even say I look forward to camping again.
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