LittleMan and I announced our arrival at Mother-Son Scout Weekend by nearly killing some people and damaging Boy Scout property.

In a move that would elicit more than a few “Oh, that was YOU…” comments in the ensuing 24 hours, we (and by we I mean, ahem, A Scout is Helpful) lost control of the steel wagon we had used to haul our two bags up a bumpy hill from the fairgrounds to the campsite, sending it rocketing back down the hill, scattering 7-year-old boys and their already-kind-of-skeptical mothers in all directions before it hurtled into a creek bed about ten feet deep.

As I scrambled down the bank to retrieve it, a friendly Scout staff member asked me to kindly return to the path before someone actually got hurt.  That someone being me, of course, so I glanced sheepishly down at the damage and clawed my way back up to the footbridge.

It could only get better from here.

I am obviously not an outdoorswoman, per se, but I had honestly been looking forward to the weekend.  As you might have intuited based on the nine-week hiatus from blogging and the sudden proliferation of modern art references on my Instagram feed, I have spent the past several months in a deep, colorful, fast-moving work tunnel, unfortunately at the expense of any semblance of schedule or family time.  The contract ended a couple of weeks ago, and I was excited to take to the California redwoods with my boy.

Mother-Son Weekend is vaguely sexist in the best possible way, meaning that mothers don’t have to do “manly” things like bring tents or make fire: accommodations (more on this shortly) are provided, and food is served in a big dining hall at scheduled intervals.  The camp itself — 91 years old and oozing a kind of mid-century-Americana charm reminiscent of The Parent Trap — is rambling and hilly, ensconced in a redwood forest with brooks and creeks, rifle range and amphitheater, wood shop and hiking trails.  The weekend schedule was fixed and firm, with the Scouts cycling through every activity imaginable (science!  dodgeball! lanyards!  skits! archery! riflery!), while the moms followed behind proffering water and hats and sunscreen and Band-Aids.  Nothing to build, nothing to cook, nothing to plan: just straight-up QT with our sons in the Great Outdoors.


Creepy gecko lanyard: CHECK!


Hiking: A Scout loves a footbridge.

Our Pack was slated to sleep in Frontier, a new, deluxe circle of cabins equipped with four bunk beds each, two windows open to the forest, and an open door.  Also: a stone’s through from the Shower Building (running water!).  In concept, this was great.  Throw sleeping pad and bag down, put some essentials in your cubby, make sure your iPhone flashlight is working, and you’re set for the night.  Except…well, it was one of those fun, microclimate kind of Northern California weekends where the coastal fog gets trapped in the dense forests, and temps hover in the damp mid-50s, until nighttime when they plunge into the 30s.  And no windows or doors!  Yay!

As an added bonus, we were divided up, mothers and sons in separate cabins.  This is no doubt meant to foster independence among our young campers.  But as anyone knows who has ever piled eight seven-year-olds armed with headlamps and large sticks (for protection) into on bunk beds in the woods…Oh, wait, you haven’t done that?  Because it sounds like a recipe for no one sleeping, ever?


But, okay, accepting the above: this was bonding time and we were going to make the most of it.  And there is a lot to be said about setting city kids loose in the wilderness.  The boys — LittleMan among them — exploded into the open space, zigging between trees, jumping over trenches, throwing rocks, hollering into the shadows.  As a city mom, accustomed to clutching little wrists and collars and never letting my kids turn a corner alone, it was almost nerve-wrackingly hard to keep of track of LittleMan…and yet the boys kept track of each other, stumbling back into the cabin circle to report on some discovery or another.  Relative strangers, many of them: kids from the pack who attend different schools, in different neighborhoods.  But give them some dangerously sharp sticks and suddenly they are best friends and off to tackle the woods and each other with joyful, yelping energy.

We ate pizza inside and then the moms shivered at the picnic tables, swapping get-to-know-you chat and weighing the merits of the planned sleeping arrangements versus the ramshackle, spider-riddled canvas cabins peppered around Frontier: two-man setups where mothers and sons could be cozy, together.  In the end, LittleMan and I split the difference: when his fellow Scouts bounded off to the dining hall to tie-dye t-shirts after dinner, he lingered behind with me, and we stuffed into my sleeping bag in the growing dark and read a chapter of Harry Potter with LittleMan’s headlamp affixed to my head.  It was warm, and very solitary in a lovely way, and it seemed to reset LittleMan, who was quivering with a kind of anxious anticipation that threatened to teeter into tears as the night wore on.

When the friends returned to camp, LittleMan scampered back outside for some more Lord of the Flies-style cabin warfare, and the moms huddled and steeled themselves for the sleepless night ahead.  This is love.

Nature sets the schedule.  Bedtime comes when it’s too dark to see exactly what you might hit when you swing that stick (or rake, or broom, whatever).  We shepherded our protesting herd into their cabin, snuggled them into flannel pants and extra waffle tees, beanies and sleeping bags.  We practiced how to use the flashlights and discussed where to find the moms in the night if they got scared (We won’t!  Just go!).  From my wooden bunk in the adjacent cabin, I watched through the open door: the shadows of bodies tossing between fatigue and adrenaline, the soft light of lantern tag, the endless singsong of silly jokes, movie quotes, and the many ways “poop” can be used in a sentence.  I heard various mothers pad across Frontier to cajole (and then threaten) in an attempt to calm our wild beasts.  I joined their ranks as the hours passed.  Eventually, finally, the last lantern was extinguished and silence fell in the woods.

It was a long night.  In shivering temperatures I woke more than once to check on LittleMan, to be sure he was still zipped into his bag, soft blond head just peeking out of the top.  Around 4:30 a.m. there was commotion as one little fellow woke disoriented, and scuttled around Frontier in search of his mother.  Around 5:30 a.m. there was more commotion as the first cabin sprang to life: the thuds of bodies jumping from bunks and the crunch of cold earth as they stormed the neighboring cabins with a chorus of war cries.  Nature sets the schedule: we wake to the birds, and then, rise with the dawn.

(As it turns out, we were not supposed to rise with the dawn.  We were supposed to rise with the taps.  At 7:00.  But A Scout Cannot be Contained. So we dragged ourselves to the coffee in the dining hall, saluted the flag, and began the day.)

Many hours later and a few granola bars later, still cold in our layers upon layers of water-resistant gear, LittleMan leaned into me at the amphitheater.  “I want to go home,” he murmured.  “I want to be with Daddy and Babygirl and you, together at home.”

A part of me felt like I should protest on principle.  Keep the campfire burning one last night, for the sake of the tribe.  But I have another tribe, a tribe I’ve honestly been feeling disconnected from, a home I missed a great deal (and not only because in some places, sleeping on a wooden plank in 30-degree temperatures would be considered a form of torture).  What LittleMan wanted: I wanted that too.

We quietly said our goodbyes as other moms nodded understandingly, and returned to Frontier to roll up our sleeping kit.  I decided I was woman enough to carry everything rather than risk another Wagon Episode, and we trucked down the slope and through the tall grasses to the  parked car.  I cued up Ryan Adams’ 1989 and my boy and I listened quietly in the dry, sun-baked Subaru, winding out of the woods and onto 116, snaking along the Russian River to the highway.



California at dawn.  (I did consider sleeping in one of these.)


Americana.  Bam.




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