As parents we quickly learn that some of the most important milestones happen at night. The first night after your baby is born, the first night home from the hospital, the first time they sleep through the night, and the first time they sleep past 5:00 a.m. Other nighttime adventures such as staying dry all night during potty training and sleepwalking sneak in just when the unsuspecting parent thinks they are home-free.
I recently discovered another milestone; the backyard camping trip.
My children decided, around 8:30 last night that they wanted to inaugurate their Daddy-Bryan’s new one-man tent. My husband was thrilled. He said the kids needed to do “kid things” in the backyard and I that needed to relax. Oh is that right? My daughter’s wrist is in a cast from time she spent in a backyard doing “kid things” last week. Also, she is violently allergic to the grass that was knee-high in the backyard. My son will still occasionally sleepwalk and he usually hates the Great Outdoors strictly on principle. What if he, by some miracle, was able to work the zipper on the tent-flap and get out? He could trip over the landscaping stones or wander into the part of the yard which has been taken over by poison ivy. I didn’t think he could open one of the gates and get out but anything is possible to a Mommy in full panic mode.
I won’t even state the obvious; these two can’t share a living room without fighting. My daughter has actually gotten angry because her little brother was “breathing her air.” They were now proposing to share a one-man tent for an entire night… in the backyard… where Mommy can’t hear your whispered threats.
All of this raced through my head faster than Vin Diesel with a load of contraband across the border. I listened as my daughter and husband playfully teased each other about the value of actually reading the directions before putting up the tent. I had a glimmer of hope when I suggested they could put up the tent in the living room. But then my husband asked the question that ended all indoor versus outdoor camping debate; “Do you want me to put on the top or leave it just mesh so you can see the stars?” Both of the kids have had a fascination with the night sky since they were toddlers; my daughter because she wants to be an astronaut and my son because of the Star Wars Trilogy. That was it. They were backyard bound.
To follow is a timeline of the first backyard camping trip:
9:00 pm: Tent is set up in the backyard. The Thermacell lantern and Off fan are activated. Sleeping bags, lantern, books, Nintendo 3DS, and two children are in the tent.
9:05 pm: Dog is sent back into the house.
9:10 pm: I panic as it is determined that my daughter’s cell phone does not have a charged battery. The tent’s location is close enough to the house for the cordless phone to work so it is sent into the tent with the children.
9:12 pm: Daddy-Bryan calls the cordless phone to make sure the lines of communication are open and functional. I stand at the French doors watching the children in the tent. The children see me and wave while making faces.
9:20 pm: The little brother comes into the house. He said that the older sister suggested that he may want a bottle of water during the night. The little brother is also getting the older sister a bottle of water, since he is already getting one for himself. Bryan and I admire this move on the older sister’s part and decide that she will make a very good wife one day.
9:35 pm: I go into backyard to check on the children. The four steps from the patio to the tent are very painful on my bare feet as I manage to find EVERY pinecone on the ground but these are the sacrifices mothers must make for their children. Leaning over the mesh of the tent I whisper, “Why did you turn off your lantern? So you can see the stars better?” My daughter whispers back, “You are blocking my view.” Feeling full of love, I lurch the four steps back to the patio, fussing about pinecones, eventually making it into the house to report that the children are “doing fine.”
9:35-9:45 pm: I watch the children from the living room without wanting to admit that I am actually watching the children. Mother and children are now locked in a silent battle of wills. I am determined that the children will eventually come to their senses and come into the house to go to sleep and children are going to prove that they can spend an entire night OUTSIDE in a tent. Their Daddy-Bryan is incredibly happy that they are interested in something that isn’t a videogame or a science experiment but knows better than to say this to me.
9:55 pm: Exhaustion is starting to take its toll on me and I announce that I will go to bed. I lurch back out to the tent to “tuck in” the children and say bedtime prayers through the mesh then Quasimodo my way back to the house. My husband, absolutely jubilant, opens the blinds in our room so the tent can be visually monitored.
10:10 pm: The little brother is observed in a tormented struggle with the tent’s zipper followed by a sprint into the house. He loudly announces that he needs a bathroom as he blows through. It seems that a bear may poop in the woods but little boys do not. I admire that he is wearing shoes to avoid the pain of the pinecones. It is this kind of wilderness know-how that may allow him to actually make it the entire night in the backyard. I feel a little better about actually lying down and closing my eyes.
10:30 pm: My daughter comes into our room. She is very congested. She announces that she will sleep on the couch in the living room because her nose is “a little runny.” She says that the little brother will remain in the tent. It is important to note here that I did NOT say anything close to “I told you so.” It should also be noted that I just let my daughter go to sleep without a full inspection or a call to urgent care. I settled down to rest, very smug in the knowledge that her little brother would soon feel that he had proven his point and would also come inside. Maybe I could get some sleep tonight after all. My husband quietly said that the boy was on a mission to prove that he is now a man and he will stay out all night. He then put a glass of ice water on my night stand and said something about my daughter learning everything she knew from me or something like that. I’m not sure. I just thought that he might have wanted a glass of ice water before he went to bed. I really was thinking about him.
11:00 pm: The boy is STILL out in the tent reading. This cannot go on much longer.
Midnight: HE HAS TURNED OFF HIS LANTERN! WHAT IS HE DOING? Is he actually trying to make me think he is going to go to sleep, in that tent, in the backyard, all alone? I am so sleepy. I cannot stay awake anymore. Here’s hoping that no random packs of wild dogs pick tonight to start roaming our neighborhood in this very developed and populated part of town.
4:ish am: I snap wide awake. “Where is my child? Is he still in the tent? Yes, and he just kind of moved. That means he is still breathing.” I fall back asleep.
6:00 am: In a kind of half-awake stupor I suddenly think about the black widow spider that was found in the backyard twelve years ago. Was it actually a black widow spider or did we decide it was something else? I can’t remember. No time for that now. Convinced he has been bitten and is suffering all alone in the tent, I run through the house. When I get to the porch I throw on the lights and run out to the tent…in bare feet… never even feeling a single pinecone.
A small boy blinks up at me through the mesh of the tent and smiles. He is absolutely perfect.
“Good morning, son.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too, mommy.” He pulls the sleeping bag over his head and goes back to sleep. I stagger back to the house. Without an adrenaline rush I notice that there are a lot of frigging pinecones on the ground that hurt my bare feet.
7:30 am: My son comes into my room to report that he has “cleaned out the tent and brought everything inside.” Gone is the glimpse of the little boy from earlier this morning; he is again the miniature man I see more and more often these days. He doesn’t even comment on last night’s adventure.
This one snuck up on me. The full impact of what last night meant to my son didn’t hit home until later in the day. To me, it was an anxiety ridden sleepless night like so many I have had in my years as a mom. To him, he was indeed proving that he was no longer my baby boy but a young man who was fully capable of spending an entire night yards away from home. He is an amazing person and I am incredibly proud he is my son.