As an only child for eight years, and a bit of a loner even after my sister came along, I had a rich fantasy life. I imagined myself on stage wowing the crowds as I crooned along to the creamy sounds of ABBA, disco danced into fame to Saturday Night Fever and was absolutely sure that somewhere, near my home, there was buried treasure.....or dinosaur bones.
One of my favorite things to do was to quickly flip the pages of a catalog, stop at a random page and imagine I could choose anything on that page for myself. Landing on a page of men's socks would earn a "re-do" or three additional picks--it all depended on my mood that day.
I fervently remember pouring over the Canadian Tire catalog when it came in the mail each year. Much like the Sears Christmas catalog that consumed many hours of fantasy purchases in the toy section, I often confined my "random" page flipping to the camping section.
This section required many picks. After all, I had to select a tent, sleeping bag, air mattress, stove, lantern, cooking equipment, cooler, axe, backpack, grill....I was a luxury fantasy camper you see.
As I grew up, I continued to fantasy shop for my fantasy camping trip. When Canadian Tire put out an exclusive camping catalog I almost lost my mind. Locked in my room for hours, I now had to consider canoes and clothing; trailers and hammocks; tarps and jackknives. To cope, I would fold corners, revisit selections, calculate totals and envision my rustic yet sophisticated future camp life in the wilderness. It all seemed so romantic!
My family vacations had included tent trailers and motor home adventures. I loved those trips---long drives in the car; eating outdoors; playing cards and board games when it rained. I could hardly wait to go camping on my own.
My first chance came when my boyfriend invited me camping for a week. Excited, I helped pack the car, we borrowed what we thought we needed and we drove up north to a provincial park. I was pumped.
It didn't matter that it was pouring rain when we arrived--the sky dense with grey clouds, hunkered in for the long haul.
It didn't matter that the tent was borrowed and we didn't actually know what shape it was supposed to be when it was set up--and there were no directions--and we hadn't tried to set it up before we left.
It didn't matter that it was almost nightfall and if we didn't get the tent up we were going to have to try to sleep in the overstuffed hatchback.
Except it did matter. My vision of camping had not included yelling and swearing and finger pointing and bug repellent buried somewhere in the dark abyss that was the back of the car. At least the rain hid my tears of frustration. This was not what camping was supposed to be!?
Flash forward some 30 years. Paper catalogs replaced by e-flyers, some of the thrill of flipping to the treasures of "the next page" has evaporated. Still, I spent hours scrolling through online ads and desperately fighting the urge to ask the bank for a loan to by my neighbor's tent trailer. My camping "reality" oh so many years ago was my first, and last, camping trip.
My fantasy camping trips continued to be blissful sojourns into independence and a oneness with nature.
Hoping to convince the Spouse to take some time off this summer, I asked my nine year old what he wanted to do when school was out. It was May. I figured there was time for Spouse to request time off if we started working on him early--and he had a hard time refusing the youngest.
My youngest responded with, "CAMPING! It will be so cool! We will sleep in a tent and roast hot dogs and marshmallows and see wild animals and..."
I made the appropriate facial gestures as he energetically rambled on, his enthusiasm drown out by the knowing voice in my head, Oh you naive little fool you!
But instead of projecting my own prejudice on how awful and hard it would be if it rained, or how NOT exciting it would be to see a bear at our campsite; I read some online reviews of tents, drove to Canadian Tire to "just look" and found the tent I was considering--- on sale.
It was a sign, I figured, so dragging the enormous thing to the check out, (so big it actually comes in a canvas bag WITH WHEELS), I paid for it and put it in the back of the van.
There it sat--for May---for June---and well into July. Secretly, I hoped my youngest had forgotten about camping (if I really wanted that to happen, I probably should have taken the tent out of the space it shared with his baseball equipment that got used twice a week.)
On a crazy upbeat day when I clearly had too much coffee, I actually went online and started looking for camp sites. I booked one for six days before the flashbacks sent me logging back in to cancel. The Spouse would not take time off. What was I thinking. I couldn't do this on my own.
The Spouse works crazy long days---and nights--and often weekends are spent with his laptop and phone as he tries to put out work fires. I started to realize that if I was going to base what I did in my life by when he was available to help me, I should just get a rocking chair and some adult diapers right now.
Last summer, still recovering from a breakdown that landed me in the hospital, I was reluctant to venture far from the house. I passed up opportunities to go to theme parks, the zoo, day trips to baseball games...it was all I could do to go and visit my mother.
This summer, I was feeling much stronger. There was no way I was going to miss out. My nineteen year old had left for university and I didn't know how much longer my nine year old would want to hang out with his mom.
So on a day when the Spouse was away for work. I wheeled the tent from the van, to the backyard. We have an odd shaped, narrow yard that wraps around the house. Let me skip to the end where I tell you after 3 hours of adjusting, readjusting, sweating, laughter and a lot of water, my youngest and I got the tent up.
Yes, on one side it was anchored in the flower bed and you actually had to walk through the garden to get around it (which you could only do on one side since the other side abutted the shed, but damn I was proud I had set it up!
My youngest was so excited he could hardly speak. He flew in and out of the house, carrying bedding and pillows---books and chairs--- flashlights and his radio. Of course we would sleep in it that night---right mom??
Oh crap. Clearly I hadn't though this through. But in for a penny in for a pound right?
I took out a rolled up carpet and spread it in the centre section, added a few low chairs, a cooler for a table, my own book and invited the dogs inside. With a warm breeze tugging at the orange fabric, sun warming the space, it seemed almost magical.
Topped by a memory foam layer, my inflatable mattress fitted with clean cotton sheets felt divine. The fresh air and crickets were interrupted by the traffic and voices on the nearby sidewalk but somehow, it didn't matter. All three of my dogs occupied a space on the mattress with me. This was my camping fantasy come true.
I watched my nine year old wiggle into his sleeping bag at the other end of the tent. Determined to sleep "in his own room", I watched him, not lost in a camping fantasy, but a camping reality.
We didn't need to drive anywhere. We didn't have to do anything in the rain.
We only had to venture as far as the backyard.
We only had to venture as far as the backyard.
"This is the best mom. I love you".
"I love you too rabbit."
And he was right..... it was the best.