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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Not A Vacation

We had a good time at Big Basin, but all told our first family camping trip was not exactly a "vacation." Certainly not for S or me. The kids kept us thoroughly busy, and by the time we got home on Saturday afternoon, we were exhausted. I was too tired even to blog about the trip -- which is saying something!

The pluses: nobody got poison oak, the tent cabin worked out well, the campsite was gorgeous, weather was almost perfect, our excursions (Santa Cruz and a little hike) were successful.

And, most important of all, we laughed more than we cried -- in fact, the crying was confined to the kids; this is not something I take for granted, given my anxieties about into the trip!

I was most concerned about how the kids would deal with the nighttime stuff. We'd planned to put BB in her pack 'n play, like we did at Nana J's, but there wasn't really room in the tent cabin. So we set up the kids' sleeping bags side by side on the second double bed, perpendicular to the 'normal' direction for sleep.

It worked out pretty well, all told. The kids really fought sleep on the first night, and woke multiple times (BB was especially upset and had trouble settling in the middle of the night). The second night, it wasn't nearly so bad. Perhaps if we'd stayed another night, they would have crashed immediately and slept through the night. (Perhaps if we'd stayed another night, we'd still be there, since S and I would not have had enough energy to drag ourselves and all our stuff out of the woods!)

We really did try to do with a minimum of "stuff," though it was a far cry from being able to carry all our supplies on our backs. (In truth, S and I have never been especially efficient campers. Car camping is definitely more our style.) We ended up bringing a second tent, which was a good call. We set it up on Saturday afternoon and the presence of a new structure to explore headed off major meltdowns for both the kids, especially BJ. He settled right in to read.

The kids needed their "friends," of course, and were each allowed to choose four to bring. BJ's choices:

  • Magenta the dog

  • an as-yet-unnamed stuffed frog. He calls it simply "baby frog" and insists it is the offspring of the famous Mickey Doodle, the purple velvet stuffed frog which we purchased years ago on a whim because it matched our purple velvet fainting couch. (Yes, for the record, once upon a time our style aspirations were high enough that we had a purple velvet fainting couch in our living room.) The purple one is important enough that even BB knows its name, so it was surprising that he'd choose to bring the green frog instead.

  • Stuxey and Little Skeeter, his two fake snake pals

BB chose four characters from the Hundred Acre Wood set: Pooh, Rabbit, Roo, and Tigger. (Apparently, we should have squirrelled Kanga away somewhere to have on hand, because much of her fussing on Thursday night had to do with asking for Kanga.) She clutched one or more of them through much of her time at the campsite, which is unusual for her; she doesn't often seem to need this sort of attachment object, so she must have felt a little overwhelmed.

Certainly she had on her serious face for much of the time.

Perhaps this was because we hadn't been there for five minutes before she'd been knocked down the stairs to the tent cabin, which resulted in the cut above her right eye. The door situation for the cabin just wasn't designed with a toddler in mind -- much less a toddler with a three-year-old brother who would come barrelling out of the door, heedless of his sister's presence right on the other side.

Even so, playing "in and out" with the door was easily one of BB's favorite activities.

Both she and BJ kept telling us how much they liked being at Big Basin, which definitely helped keep things in perspective. BJ wanted to "go on adventures" and find hidden animals. This would be well and good, except for the fact that he wanted to find an animal for every letter of the alphabet -- from ant to zebra -- and he wanted to find them in alphabetical order. That's my boy. As you might imagine, there was much talk about the importance of one's imagination when having adventures in the woods.

Part of the appeal for BB was the opportunity to have some new words to use, words like "fire pit" and "pinch" and "camping."


On Friday morning, we headed over to Santa Cruz, with the idea of doing the boardwalk and perhaps playing a bit on the beach. When we arrived about 10 a.m., only to discover that the rides wouldn't open until 1 p.m., we hastily rearranged our plans and I made a desperate, silent plea to the Almighty Napping Gods that BB's usual noon nap wouldn't cause too much trouble. Apparently, They were listening, because we were able to stay until 2 p.m.!

BJ and I played in the sand, while BB and S came and went between hanging out with us and walking the Boardwalk. BJ even got his feet and hands wet; he's come a long way from last year, when our one and only visit to the beach resulted in his sobbing declaration that the ocean was "too wavy." BB did NOT like the feel of the sand on her feet, so she didn't want much to do with making sandcastles and the like.

She was happy for S to carry her, though, and most of all she was interested in the merry-go-round. She asked S about it for nearly two hours. When it finally opened at noon for testing, she was delighted. Turned out she didn't want to ride it, she just wanted to watch it go round and round; when it opened at 1 p.m. for riders, she was completely content to sit with S and watch BJ and me take our turn. S was sure to take a little video, and BB has already asked to watch it several times on the computer. (Talk about your instant replay childhood! But I'll resist the urge to go on a "kids these days" rant -- this post is already long enough!!!)


After the merry-go-round, we decided to push our luck and let BB and BJ do a kiddie ride. BJ chose the little boats, which they had all to themselves. BB all but fell asleep on the ride (which tells you all you need to know about how exciting it was) but even so they seemed to enjoy it.


They are still talking about it, days later, so that counts for something.

After letting the kids look longingly at the rides they couldn't yet ride, we headed back to the campsite. That night, we built a campfire, cooked hot dogs, roasted marshmallows -- after all, we had to be sure their first experience covered the basic camping cliches. Neither kid wanted much to do with S'mores, though they deigned to taste the marshmallows. So I got to eat a lot of chocolate.

There weren't many moments for peaceful contemplation of the wonder of the woods -- that sort of magic wasn't part of this trip at all, in fact. I admit that I missed breaking bread with reverential quiet in the truly awesome cathedrals of trees. "Reverential" and "Quiet" simply weren't applicable terms this time around. But it was equally magical to snuggle up with BB in my lap as darkness fell, watching the fire leap and dance and hearing her chatter about the "Fire pit! Hot! Fire! Mama make! Hot!"

On Saturday morning, we broke camp and then drove to the welcome center, where we did the loop trail among the redwoods. BB was still largely in carry mode, but BJ walked the entire half-mile trail. He loved reading the signs and pointing out the numbered posts which marked points of interest.

He also wanted to know, "Was the 'Father of the Forest' really a boy?"

And, "Was the 'Mother of the Forest' really a girl?"

We'd done this trail before, but it was pre-kids, so I looked a little more closely at the 'Mother' tree this time around. I have to admit that as a mother myself now, I was struck by the possible symbolic significance of "her" hollow center. If "she" wasn't fenced off, you could walk right inside and look up into "her." And yet, she thrives.

Yes, that little dot is a small hole through the opposite side of the tree -- you can look straight through "her." It isn't often these days that I get glimpses of poems that want to be written, but there was definitely one flitting around the edges of my attention when I paused to take these pictures. (A poem that will probably never be written. And that, too, has symbolic significance for this mother writer. So it goes.)

We hunted in vain for banana slugs. Thankfully, the kids weren't too disappointed. They played with sticks and that seemed to suffice.

After all, what's a good hike in the woods without a good stick?

By the end of the hike, we were all pretty tired. I found myself wishing that there was somebody who could carry me. Lucky BB!

I think it will be another day or so before all the gear gets put away and we start to feel rested again. But it was worth it, definitely worth it. These sorts of family excursions are the kinds of traditions I hope to continue through the years.

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