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Jewish Girls Don’t Camp: Part I

As if the Jews didn’t suffer enough for the last several thousand years, I volunteered my family for our first real camping trip through my son’s Boy Scout program at school. My intentions were, in part, a well-meaning attempt to dispel the old adage that Jewish girls don’t camp.

Despite protests from my husband Scott, who is more comfortable with a computer than a compass, and ridicule from my mother, who hassled me, “What, are you crazy?” I was determined to take advantage of this perfect opportunity to bond with my children in the great outdoors.

Since many aspects of Judaism intertwine the importance of being one with Mother Nature— Tu B’Shevat, the celebration of trees, for example—I wanted to make this camping adventure a religious experience. So did Scott, who prayed everyday that I would change my mind. I convinced myself that we all could benefit from a change of scenery, and surely we could survive 24 hours in the woods. After all, we were surrounded by a pack of den leaders, and every one of them knew how to utilize those mysterious gadgets hidden inside a pocketknife. As a devoted scout mom, I figured the least I could do was sacrifice the comforts of home for one day so that my son could earn more arrow points.

Little did I know that our outdoor overnight would make Camp Sabra seem more like Club Med. To this day, I’m still afraid to zip myself into a sleeping bag. If only I had paid attention to the warning signs—and there were plenty of them—I would have saved my family from the humiliation of being the only campers to sneak out our tent before the crack of dawn and watch the golden sunrise from our heated mini van.

The first hint of trouble began before we even pulled out of the driveway. That’s when my kids panicked that the batteries in their Game Boys might die during the two-hour scenic drive to the campground. I solved that problem when I borrowed a handful of double-As from inside a remote control car that no one seemed to miss.

The kids organized their toys and batteries in their backpacks, while I loaded the van with enough food and supplies to last all summer. I piled in pillows, blankets, sleeping bags, grubby clothes, coolers, ponchos, old tennis shoes, towels, baseball gloves, toilet paper, bug spray, flashlights, a fry pan, and enough kosher hot dogs to gag a grizzly bear. I woke up my neighbors as I banged around the camping gear, including a lantern, family-size tent, plastic tarps, a stove with propane tanks, and two inflatable air mattresses that I borrowed from a friend and had no clue how to use. To make more room for junk, I contemplated strapping the kids to the roof of the Dodge Caravan.

As the morning fog lifted, I tried to remain calm when my neighbor, an experienced outdoorsman, waved another red flag in my face and informed me that camping is “miserable fun.”

At last, we were ready to hit the road when the phone rang. I assumed that it was my mom in a last ditch effort to bribe me with an offer to baby-sit the kids if we changed our minds and stayed home. Instead, it was our den leader Christine on the line, and her voice sounded weak. She told me how she was up all night with the stomach flu, but she assured me that she would be okay as long as she stayed off her feet and consumed nothing more than over-the-counter medication. I tried to sound sympathetic, but honestly I was more concerned about how Scott and I would pitch a tent and build a fire without her.

When we arrived at our destination—the beautiful Lost Valley Lake Resort in Owensville, Missouri—I jumped out of the van and stretched my arms up to the beautiful blue sky.

“Now that’s fresh air!” I declared before I realized I had forgot the Claritin at home. I yanked the video games from my kids’ paws and pointed them in the direction of the hundreds of acres of wooded wonderland.

“Go collect firewood, and try not to poke out anyone’s eye with a stick,” I yelled to the screaming scouts as they scrambled into the tall timbers. “And watch out for poison ivy!”

None of the other moms seemed to pay any attention to where their kids disappeared into the forest, so I pretended not to worry either. Everybody had a job to do, and it had to get done before daylight was gone. Scott was in charge of the tent that continually collapsed all around him, and I had the daunting task to unload every heavy bundle that I struggled all morning to cram inside the van.

After all our hard work, we were starved and couldn’t wait to sink our teeth into thick, juicy steaks and sweet potatoes smothered in butter and cinnamon sugar that cooked over the fire. Unfortunately, the frozen meat and giant potatoes took longer than our rumbling bellies could stand, so we curbed our appetite with weanies on a stick.

After dinner, the dads grabbed their flashlights and kids for a nighttime hike. Meanwhile, Christine and I hurried to clean up the food and crumbs before the raccoons made themselves at home. Now I get why everyone tied their trash bags to the middle of tree trunks.

I tried to relax on a log, but I was told to gather my family’s bedtime clothes and toothbrushes before the pitch-black sky blinded us. The lantern came in handy as I crawled around the cramped tent to find sweatshirts, socks, and, most importantly, my library book, “Appalachian Trails,” that I planned to read by flashlight.

When Scott and the kids returned from their adventure, they fell into the tent and dressed in layers for the chilly night ahead. For a few minutes, I actually felt very calm and comfortable, like I floated on a cloud. Unfortunately, the peaceful moment didn’t last long because the mattress was slowly leaking air. When Scott whispered something to me about a hissing sound, I noticed cold air escaped his mouth.

“What kind of hiss-hiss-hissing sound do you mean?” I stuttered. “If there’s a rattlesnake in our tent, I’m-I’m-I’m gonna die.”

I tried not to let the kids hear my teeth chatter when I continued, “I can hear my mom say, ‘I told you so,’ when we are rushed to the hos-hos-hospital with venom poisoning.”

The four of us were scared and huddled together to stay warm. We laid still, either frozen in fear or from the falling temperature outside. I heard another noise, what sounded like a wild animal tearing into the bag of potato chips that I negligently left outside our tent.

Then, I heard silence, all except for a faint, but steady whoosh sound that came from a tiny hole in the air mattress underneath me. As I gradually sank to the cold, hard, rocky ground next to my frostbitten daughter, I knew in my heart that I had experienced “miserable fun” for the last time. I tried to stop the leak with a bandage from my first aid kit, but it was useless.

Throughout the night, I felt daddy long-legs crawling all over me and I heard the strangest chirps, squawks, howls, and crunching leaves from the footsteps of God-only-knows-who, maybe an escaped convict. Plus, in the tent next to us, my girlfriend’s four-year-old daughter cried all night long because her daddy forgot her binkie at home.
If that wasn’t bad enough, my husband snored so loudly that I had to wake him up, and he swore he never slept a wink. I was embarrassed that our friends would hear him, or worse yet, someone would think he was a bear and attack him in his sleep.

By the time I nodded off again, my daughter woke up because she had to pee pee in the tee pee. Thank God we brought a portable potty chair so that we wouldn’t have to walk a mile to the nearest bathroom. In desperation, I never thought I would stoop so low, literally, but I was ready to burst myself.

Finally, I couldn’t make my family suffer one minute longer. That’s when Scott and I decided to break the rules and get out alive.

To find out how my family survived our first—and last—camping trip, don’t miss the conclusion of the story in next week’s “Mishegas of Motherhood” column.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her two children, toy poodle named Luci, and her husband, but not necessarily in that order. Feel free to send any comments, prayers or recipes to ellie.mishegasofmotherhood.com