With everything I’ve got going, life is a bit crazy at times. Raising two young kids (late-talkers to boot), homeschooling, not to mention my own writing and publishing business, which I’m slowly resurrecting after surviving two years of my cute little boy’s existence. I also recently hosted Kate’s fifth birthday party, an event that wasn’t complete without a lost Elsa balloon and the said cute, little boy burning his fingers on the grill. My kids had lots of emotions that day, and because they did, that meant I did. But hey, that homemade cake was really good… even if I didn’t actually get a piece, and enjoy it, until we got home.
Life there’s a bit overwhelming, right?
And sure it’s not all crazy times. In fact, I have some pretty amazing moments and days with my kids, when I’m just so connected and in tune with them, but no question about it: I’ve got my hands full.
Which is why it makes perfect sense that here I am, now starting a monthly camping group. A small, intimate (and hopefully) close group of homeschooling families. People who simply fit together, who my kids will look to as their family-in-nature, exploring different State and National Parks, going on adventures and seeing where it takes us —
And… you’re probably shaking your heads at me, thinking I’m straight-up nuts. Crazy, even.
(Sean certainly thinks so.)
But to me, it makes perfect sense, a perfect fit really for this next stage of our journey.
At least for me.
I’ll back up a couple decades here to where this desire, for me, actually started. When I was younger… from like 7 (I think?) to 13, this was what our family did. Every summer we would be gone for a month or two at a time, camping and visiting every National Park we could fit in between the dog trials my parents were part of. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of places we’ve been, the different little museums we checked out during those years, but what I can tell you is that it gave me such a deep, profound love for nature. Something that is so engrained that it’s simply part of my core, of who I am.
But it’s also more than that…
It’s some of my absolute best memories with my family. It’s the time when I felt closest to them, and not even the big “events” like when we went to Disney World with relatives. In fact, it was more those little moments, those snippets of memories that are the most precious to me. Like when we’d drive out of Los Angeles in the middle of the night and head to Las Vegas. I have no idea why that direction always seemed to be our first destination of choice, camping at the RV lot in Circus Circus, but it was — and I loved it. Loved driving at one or two o’clock in the morning. The roads completely empty of cars and that desert… just so darn black. Not a single light in sight (for a bit anyway, and then they got really cool and really colorful). But that empty stretch of road, that blackness, was my favorite. It’s when I got to sit in the front seat and listen to all the Classic Rock tapes my parents had, from the Beach Boys to The Who, and I would just sing and sing and sing.
It was great.
Great connection, great fun, and also, a whole lot more. You see, as a parent and when we first started looking into homeschooling, those experiences gave me the insight I needed to feel confident and comfortable in our decision, not just to homeschool but to unschool (also called self-directed learning). When we, as a family, decided where we would go together. What would interest us most?
Like that Quake Lake up in Montana, just outside of Yellowstone, where a mountain literally slid off its top during an earthquake and created this lake. You can see the tops of pine trees sticking out of the water, like silent sentinels guarding a place where people died and homes were swept away, where now ospreys make their nests and leap into the air. It was eerie, with a a kind of stillness I’ve only felt a few times since.
But… I remember that place.
I haven’t been back since I was a child, but I remembered all those images, remembered the feel of the place. It left an impression on me, one I carry with me now, even as an adult.
Looking back on my childhood, I asked myself, what do I remember? What did I learn? And almost just as important, when did I learn it? Was it during school? Or heck, can I remember learning anything in school (we’re talking specifics here)?
And in contrast, what did I carry with me into adulthood?
For me, those answers were party obvious.
As a writer, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to explore and play with these places, the experiences that touched me most. I’ve written magazine articles for Women in the Outdoors, Jakes Magazine, and Montana Outdoors. I wrote about trekking on the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska, complete with ski poles and crampons as a teenager (and with all the emotions that went with being a teen). We hiked by ice climbers and looked down these brilliant, aqua-blue crevasses and the melting water literally falling down under our feet and into the ice. And yes, it was also cold and my feet really did hurt, but it was amazing.
Besides, how many other kids got to say they hiked a glacier? (I thought I was pretty darn cool, by the way.)
I also have a deep love for mountain goats, of all animals. You probably have never heard of them before, and yet, they’re my favorite. Why? Because I remember, in Glacier National Park, Montana, looking up at one of those black, craggy mountains with binoculars, trying to find this speck of white that my dad had claimed he’d seen (I never saw the mountain goat myself). But all the pictures I saw while we were there?
I thought they were beautiful. Majestic.
It was a love that again, I carried into adulthood. An interest that pushed me to write what became a lead article for Montana Outdoors (along with a few others) and ended up making me a good amount of money, actually.
And it was because of that love, the unique place that was Glacier National Park, which pushed me to try our first family vacation there. The result was a definite mix, especially the whole not-sleeping-for-a-month (Eric had decided the vacation was a great time to start teething). But I got to see my mountain goats, holding my six-month old boy, and yes, I cried.
It was that beautiful a moment, that touching for me. I can’t wait to go back.
We also stayed two days in Butte, Montana so I could sneak in some research in between the needs of my kids. Butte, you’re asking? Never heard of it. I hadn’t either until some family vacations took us through there and again, a place left an impression on me. This one wasn’t as obvious as the mountain sliding into a lake, but no less powerful. I have an entire historical mystery series set there, as well as a whole new fantasy world. Also, Eric got to hang with me (literally, he was in the baby carrier) while I got a personal tour of the Dumas Brothel Museum.
All of this stayed with me. Something I saw or experienced as a child, something I learned by living.
This was why our decision to homeschool came so easily to us, especially in regards to self-directed learning. All I had to do was look at my life, at what I remembered growing up, and the answer was there.
Just sitting there, waiting. All I had to do was trust in it, trust in my children to learn, just as my parents had trusted in me.
Also, just like I’ve been waiting so anxiously for when the moment was right, when I could start this journey of exploring and camping with my kids. When they got big enough so I could, you know, actually enjoy parts of the trip and not just be in work-mode the whole time.
The camping group I’m putting together is small. There have been opportunities to join some other large group camping events, but that didn’t work for me and my family (for me it’s a mess of anxiety with all those people I don’t know). But a small group? A chance to really connect, to form some deeper friendships? That I can totally do. Especially when you get together the right group of people, people whose energies really compliment each other, especially those who share this deep love of nature, who believe a childhood in nature is essential.
I’m really, really excited.
And I’m excited for my kids. In my heart, I know this will be an even better opportunity for Eric. For late-talkers, one common thread is when they go to new places, have new experiences, you’ll hear new words start coming. It’s not a guaranteed thing, but what can happen, when they’re ready, is the experience itself becomes this little shock to the system. Or maybe a little rocking motion to get things going. Something new and exciting and super fun and the words just kinda pour out without them being able to contain it.
Again, my intuition is telling me this will be good for Eric.
Also when we’re camping he can simply run and be himself, to pee on rocks and trees. I mean really, nature is a place where our rules, ones we’ve laid down as adults, simply don’t apply. And for strong-willed little explorers, with their own (very opinionated) little minds, this is a good thing. A good experience for them.
So yes, this camping group is an added load to what I’m already carrying, but for me, it’s worth it. Worth it to finally be at this place, to share this experience with my children. One I’ve looked forward to since before they were born. And I hope I can give them the chance to build their own memories, follow their own path, and have it not be regulated to only those summer months when school is out.
They can do it every day, as often and as long as they like. And not only that, but building a community of friends and family around them, kids of so many ages, to share and grow up with, to follow their lead and learn through living.
Wow. What an opportunity. One I’m so jealous of, but just can’t wait to get started… and see where this next adventure takes us.