“You want to do what?” I said.
Although I asked the question, I fully understood what the boy had just asked. He is my son, after all, and since he has not yet reached high school, we still speak the same language although the dialect is becoming more and more, let’s say, strained. His question was short and to the point and he knew I understood, but asked again anyway with perfect clarity: “Can we sleep outside tonight?” he asked.
Now, normally this would not be an odd request. He and his friends have camped numerous times and I usually fully endorse any opportunity for them to get outside and experience the “great outdoors.” The reason for my hesitation, however, was that his question immediately followed the TV weatherman’s statement that the temperature this night would be 14 degrees and that all plants should be covered and pets brought inside. I assume that the weatherman was making this recommendation so the plants and animals would not all die.
So after looking at each other, speechless, for what was probably an uncomfortable amount of time, I told him what any responsible parent would have told him: “Sure, go ahead.”
It is exciting to watch a young boy move with enthusiasm at the prospect of doing something spontaneous, something no one else would want to do, something fun and different. The enthusiasm is quite contagious I must say. Boys were made to push boundaries and there is a certain gratification in helping them.
So the night began. The first thing my son did was to call his friends and tell them that “it was on.” They staked out a location for the tent and started building a fire in the pit behind our house. I decided that I would offer my assistance and helped with the tent and pulled out every sleeping bag I could find. They were going to be cold and miserable, but maybe they could escape the night without any casualties. I assumed anyway, that at some point they would cry “uncle” and slink back into the warmth of the house.
Of course you can’t have a campsite without a meal, so the next order of business was food. The menu was simple: hot dogs (less the buns), potatoes, and Smores. We picked these up at the grocery store and since these were the only three items on their list, we were back in no time. When it came to the meal preparation, “cooking” is somewhat of a loose term. The hot dogs were prepared in a fish basket over the fire and in about 20 seconds were “well done.” The potatoes were wrapped in tin foil and thrown into the fire. I never really heard how they came out. The Smores were perfect. Everything was consumed.
The boys slept soundly for most of the night. I know this only because I crept outside at about 2 a.m. and put my ear against the tent to make sure I could hear breathing. The fire was dying a slow death and I was certain that the chill of the night would catch up to them soon. At 6:30, I checked again and realized that my instincts had been way off. They were not coming in. To the contrary, they were up working on another fire and preparing breakfast. I am not sure what they were eating, but I did notice that all the bacon in the house was gone. How you cook bacon on an open fire with no pan is still a mystery to me. I think they were just showing off at this point.
So in the end it was the young boys -- 1, old man winter (and dad) -- 0. I was not completely defeated, though. I did walk away with a great reminder that sometimes it is easy to create great memories and that children don’t need much to make them happen. Sometimes all it takes is a good imagination and the willingness to say “Sure, go ahead.”