On Sunday and Monday, I took our two daughters camping. We went to Montgomery Bell State Park. Though I have talked about it for years, I had never taken them camping before. My wife's back prevented her from coming, and we missed her.
Other than not having my wife around, it was awesome. We slept all together in a tent, cooked over an open fire, and took a long hike through the woods. We brought in our own water, sang songs, played in the fallen leaves, and pretended to be Indians. I took them out to an open field at night and we lay down on the wet grass and looked up at the stars. We talked about meteors and trees and deer and God.
I slept on an air mattress, but I gave them mats to sleep on. This is not just because I'm cheap and cruel. It is mainly that, but it is also because that's how I did it when I was a kid. I wanted them to get the full-bore, non-cushy experience. When we woke up (with the sun), they both complained about how uncomfortable they were. I then asked "but did you like it?" And they shouted "we loved it!"
At several points during the weekend, one or other of my girls would look up at me and say either "I love you daddy," or "I'm so glad you brought me here." Just hearing that one time would have been worth the whole trip, but to hear it over and over was truly precious.
I loved to camp as a kid. I started by going with the Boy Scouts, but over the years it became something I would just do. Sometimes I would go with friends, sometimes by myself. It was easy where I grew up, because I just had to pack a backpack and walk off into the canyons. Now, living in the city, it requires a bit more effort.
I wanted my children to experience nature, to feel the earth beneath them at night and see the trees and stars overhead. I wanted them to know the relief that comes when the fire finally starts. And they responded. As we walked through the woods and talked about pollution, my older girl kept saying "I'm breathing in all the good air and breathing out all the bad air." I felt the same way. We were away from humanity and back in a simple, clean place. It was good to be there, and great to be with them.