Dr. Suess: Model Outdoorsman

This morning we impromptued a scene from The Lorax, where the Lorax (played by Mom) reprimands the Once-ler (our 1-yr-old):

Your nose chugs on day and night, without stop, making gluppitty-glupp, also schloppity-schlopp.

Then, our 5-yr-old joined in:

And what do you do with this left over goo? I’ll show you, you dirty old Once-ler man, you!

He did not proceed to show us what the baby does with her snot. That would have been gross, though funny.

The Lorax – inspiring countless kids to get outdoors and hug a tree, one of the few books I would ever bring camping.

I’m sure Dr. Suess was a minimalist camper and ultralight backpacker, keeping it simple, enjoying the Grickle-grass and the Swomee-Swans song, and leaving no trace. What a model outdoorsman. I can picture him crossing the Sierras with John Muir, swinging their knapsacks, and whistling “Rocky Mountain High.”

Camping with Kids: A Simple Gear List

The two oldest on their first trip with dad

Below are 5 critical camping with kids items – forgetting them could potentially lead to frustration, tears, and even going home early. For a kids’ personal gear list, see the 7 essential items that kids can pack and manage on their own.

This fall I took the kids camping at Interstate State Park, Taylor’s Falls, MN, for a quick overnighter. It was totally spur of the moment, the moment being right when I got home from work, about 4:30 PM, and the spur being a cabin fever of 110°.

As an aspiring purist/minimalist camper my camping-with-kids gear list started out very short – clothes. Sticks and rocks can replace any toys or games (except a frisbee – I haven’t found mother nature’s equivalent). Action figures? In the great outdoors, we are the action figures! Electronics – mostly inappropriate. Along these lines, we were on the road by 4:45.

I learned the hard way that kids need more than just clothes to have fun. I’ll never forget their pullups again. Here are a few additions to my camping-with-kids gear list:

  1. Pullups/diapers – Not just for the recently potty trained. Sometimes I wish I had one, on those cold rainy nights.
  2. Baby wipes – Camping is all about getting dirty, but there’s a limit to the type and amount. While I unpacked the van my daughter unpacked the fire pit with her hands. She emerged in a cloud of soot, like a chimney sweep. Wipes, though environmentally unfriendly, would have been so much easier than mother nature’s wipe, wet grass. And the alcohol “sanitary wipes” could double as firestarters!
  3. Extra clothes and shoes – While I set up the tent the kids set up a splash competition, throwing rocks into the river (video below). It’s nice to have a set of dedicated camping clothes, i.e., hand-me-downs and thrift store treasures, ones you wouldn’t mind throwing away or using as firestarters when you run out of wipes. Polyesters are optimal outdoor fabrics – lightweight and fast drying. Cottons, e.g., jeans, are heavier and harder to dry.
  4. Extra warmth – Kids are warm-blooded creatures. Either fill the tent with blankets, or strap them into their sleeping bags with bungee chords. Pajamas are necessary, contrary to what’s been said about less clothing being warmer at night. I’ve found that temperatures below 50° require additional nighttime accommodations (e.g., sweatshirts, socks, liners, winter bags). See here for more on sleeping gear.
  5. Good food – The kids should decide, partly, what constitutes good food: hotdogs, marshmallows, candy, soda, etc. Make camping as enjoyable as possible and they’ll come back for more.

Half Dome at Dawn

In my first post, which asks, Is Parenting Worth it? I managed to squeeze in a reference to hiking, in this case the greatest day hike ever invented, Half Dome, Yosemite. If I had to choose a mountain for a father figure it would be this semi-dome. Firm as granite, but not impossible or abusive.

Last summer my bro and I hiked the dome nocturnally. Leaving Curry Village, at the valley floor, at 1:00 AM put us on top just before dawn, about 5:45 AM. After soaking it up and taking a power nap, we blazed back down to the valley in the cool hours of the morning, passing a hundred or so weary hikers all at different points in their journey up.

I highly recommend it, if you can manage 17 miles on zero sleep. You carry about half the water as you would during the day, since you’re exposed to about a fourth as much sun and heat. And there are plenty of other hikers with the same crazy objective, so you’ll easily outnumber any bears; if you don’t, you’ll likely not be the slowest. Best of all is watching the sunrise over the pacific crest. Incredible.

Is Parenting Worth It?

I’ve never read a blog’s first post, let alone written it. I’m about to do both, at the same time. Two birds before they even hatch.

This blog was inspired, in part, by a discussion I had with another dad this summer about Why Parents Hate Parenting. He was shocked to hear that:

Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so.

The research is dismal, but it only confirms the obvious: people who clean up poop and pee every day aren’t quite as happy as people who don’t. Instead, they’re more stressed, and their marriages are strained and less satisfying: less romance, less traveling, less clubbing, less sleep, more poop (our 3-yr-old pooped her pants three times today). So the article reminds parents that raising human beings sucks, in case they’d forgotten, and it encourages people without kids to high five each other.

But by page 5 it gets to the nitty gritty, the definition of happiness, suggesting that parents, who seem lunatic for their decision, might be trading the moment-to-moment for the long-term satisfaction. The research doesn’t reflect this trade off. Gauging a parent’s deep love and commitment, the fulfillment and gratification often only felt in hindsight, requires much more than the cortisol in a teaspoon of saliva (a stress indicator in many of the studies cited).

So there’s more to parenting than research can uncover. The real question is, do the benefits outweigh the costs?

The costs: time, money, energy, sanity. Everything.

The benefits:

  1. Perpetuating the human race, increasing our odds of survival in the event of a killer tomato invasion.
  2. Paying it forward – somebody reared us, right? Someday, after they hate us, they might thank us, as we probably thanked our parents.
  3. Paying it backward – we change their diapers, they might change ours.
  4. Distribution of cheap labor – my son will happily do most chores for free, and when I can’t convince him that a tedious chore is really a game, I just pay him pennies on the dollar, or skittles.
  5. Reliving our childhoods – bikes, forts, legos, whoopie cushions, firecrackers, roller coasters, and videogames; lots of socially acceptable immaturity.

But these are mostly practical benefits, and they’re definitely not worth all our time, money, energy and sanity. That would be like hiking Half Dome for the exercise. No, I think most of us are in it for the simple, intangible, sometimes impractical rewards, the view from the top, brief as it may be:

Parenting is a grind, and most parents are stressed out much more than they are happy. But when parents think about parenting, they don’t remember the background stress. They remember the cuddle and the kiss.

I disagree with the rest of this article, especially the likening of parents to lab rats, gamblers, and junkies, but parenting really is a long series of crappy times interspersed with moments of triumph. And these profound moments, though sometimes fleeting and immeasurable, outweigh all the misery and despair.