Monday, September 24, 2007

The Great Outdoors…

It's no secret…I HATE nature.

Okay, that may be a bit harsh. It's not like I want to pave over the whole world and have everything be glistening white cement while I pick my teeth with a redwood toothpick made of the last tree on Earth, but I'm a man of creature comforts. I don't like being disconnected from the world, I hate bugs, mud, animal crap, slime of undetermined origin, physical exertion related to simple survival, not having a hot shower within 10 minutes of waking, and having to avoid potentially dangerous animals (especially when I'm not sure how dangerous they may be).

My family has never been big on the outdoors. The closest thing to camping I ever did with my family as a child was taking a nice, modernized camper to a fairly sterile and well-kept Jellystone Campground or KOA when I was about 5. We did this a few times when I was very young, occasionally with my grandparents coming along with their camper. We slept in beds, we shat in toilets that flushed, cooked in ovens, and had most all of the comforts of home. It was no big adjustment, just new surroundings and playmates.

My only recollection of really "camping out" is with a church youth group, somewhat akin to a co-ed Boy Scouts for the local Baptist Church, when I was about 8. I enjoyed much of the campout, singing songs and roasting marshmallows, etc., but just before lights out, one of the camp dads told us the legend of the Jersey Devil, a horrifying beast said to eat children and turn milk sour with its foul breath. Kinda the John Ashcroft of its day. As we were camping in the Pine Barrens of Ocean County and in the heart of the legend's locale, he warned us to be vigilant. After lights out, and we had just drifted off to sleep, he proceeded to put on a Halloween mask and jump into our tents growling and snarling.

I was inconsolable for the next 3 hours and skittish for several weeks. Still makes my heart speed up a bit.

Needless to say, this soured me on camping as well as Scouting, and therefore, added some reluctance to my escorting my son to his first Cub Scout campout.

Liam just signed up for Cub Scouts. Being in 2nd grade now, he's only a year behind the starting age for Cub Scouts, entering as a Wolf Scout. I had no qualms about this, aside from some initial hesitance regarding their organizational stance on certain issues and seeming penchant for patriarchy and blind patriotism (hesitance since quelled). He could use the structure and discipline, as well as some reinforcement on the core virtues taught by the organization (i.e. be honest, trustworthy, loyal, kind, obedient {in its proper context}, etc.) Not to mention it provides an additional incentive for him to behave well and earn privileges like campouts and patches.

He's truly excited about this opportunity to strut his stuff, show off how smart, tenacious, and talented he is, and socialize with other kids his age and make a few new friends. I can relate. That's why I joined a fraternity in college. So far, he's taking to it like a duck to water.

I had originally thought I had a quartet gig the date of the campout, and thus, wouldn't be able to attend, much to my initial relief. As it turned out, I had the date of the gig mixed up and had the afternoon available. The first campout was free of charge to newbies and I wasn't working until the evening, so, as Sonya had wanted to make something for the pot luck later that evening and do some additional gathering of materials (tent, blankets, etc.) should they choose to spend the night, I was to take my Mini-Me to the grounds for the first part of the day, with Sonya and Courtney joining us later.

After spending a bit longer than I had anticipated getting up and ready to go, grabbing a bite at McD's, and about an hour's drive to the campsite, we finally arrive at D-Bar-A Scout Ranch, just north of Metamora. Upon our arrival and after stopping at the main cabin to get directions to the campsite and clean up the spilled OJ, we find parents and kids milling about the campfire, running, playing games, and chasing the local rodents. Liam goes down one of the trails with his packmates and I grab my ukulele and plant myself on one of our camp chairs in front of the fire. Liam is able to grab a pack of Pop Tarts from one of the Den Mothers at lunchtime, while I entertain some of the smaller children with a few Disney tunes.

Then comes the event of the afternoon – range shooting with BB guns.

This was an event I was a bit worried about. It wasn't the flashbacks to Ralphie and "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out!" I had no fear of the safety issue. I trusted they would get a LONG and emphatic lecture about gun safety that I would make Liam listen to and regurgitate every word of. My concern was my household's very strong anti-gun stance. Sonya is VERY liberal and anti-gun. I'm very liberal as well, but not so much anti-gun as I'm anti-gun culture and anti-NRA. Before we head out, I give a call to Sonya to be sure she's okay with it and we discuss some ground rules: ONLY targets are okay to shoot at, never aim at anything other than an actual target, there is responsible hunting, but we will NOT be hunting, etc.. All of these he was perfectly fine with and had absolutely no argument with, so, on to the range we went.

After a very picturesque half-mile hike to the shooting range, with the Pack Leader pointing out the myriad points of interest on the way, Liam's anticipation and enthusiasm builds. Strangely enough, so did mine. I have never shot a gun any more dangerous than a ping-pong ball or suction-cup dart gun before, so this was a first for me as well. Granted, this was only an air-pumped BB gun, but I was still rather enthralled by the idea. I was rather good with a bow and arrow in my days at Roeper Summer Day Camp, but never even HELD a gun, let alone shoot one.

He listened rather well to the 15 minute safety speech by the Range Master, excited to use the phrase "Permission to enter the range, Range Master!", then we assumed our positions in spots one and two on the range.

I gotta say, as much as I'm not thrilled with guns, I'm VERY proud of my son's hand/eye coordination. He's a deadeye! Every shot he aimed at the scoring target was a bull's-eye! He did much better than his ol' man and qualified for his patch as well as the youth shooting team (though I doubt we'll be allowing that – we'll see). What really got to me was the quality bonding we got to do. Talking about the safety rules, congratulating each other on great shots, high-fives, and smiles and hugs exchanged all gave me the rare "dad-glow". I was beaming with pride and love for my boy, and best of all, he was beaming with pride and love for me.

After the gun range, I send Liam with the pack to go on a hike and I head back to the camp, talking with one of the other dads along the way. I get back and just sit around the campfire strumming my ukulele, talking with the other parents, and discussing Liam's vegetarianism. To my mild surprise in a group of blue-collar Scout parents, they're not taken at all aback by it and we chat about family, kids, school, and other grown-up type things while I wait for Sonya and Courtney.

The women of my life drive up just as I am ready to head to work. We do a little car junk swapping to make room for her return trip, update each other on the day, and give them both hugs as I head off to work. Sonya plans on staying the night in her brother's borrowed tent with the kids.

Liam apparently didn't do as well in the evening. He didn't eat as much as he should, was over-stimulated, and had a meltdown or two, but was right as rain in the morning. His escapades the night prior, however, may have lost him the next campout. If he can curb his temper from now until then, he may earn it back. Yet another incentive in the perpetual battle of wills between Liam's temper and our law. I really hope he can keep things together. I wanna go camping again!!! Since BB guns were the weapon of choice this time, I wanna try my skills at archery.

Of course, the battle now is who goes: me or Sonya!? We may have to set up a grudge match on this one. Thumb wresting – best 2 out of 3.

Coming up next: The March to Convention...

PS. If you actually READ all of this, you're either WAY to interested in my pithy life or need to find a more interesting job....

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