I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that our little guy had his first camping experience—that excursion was a practice run for a lengthier camping adventure to come. As I write this, our family is finishing up a six-day camping extravaganza. Needless to say, I have a few tales to tell.
My preferred style of camping is to hike several miles into the middle of the woods and set up our tents somewhere off the beaten path, near a beautiful stream. I love the wildness of the wilderness and the solitude of being “off the grid.” However, this camping trip was different. We met my wife’s parents, who were traveling in an RV, which meant that we were obligated to pitch our tents in the campground. This helped me remember why I love going into the wilderness so much. Campgrounds are just like the suburbs, but with thinner walls, which means more noise. Let’s just say that we didn’t get the best sleep some nights.
One day, we went on a hike to a popular rock formation. When we got to the top, my wife took our little guy out of the front pack to nurse him for a bit. A lady who looked to be about 7 months pregnant approached her and asked her how old a baby needed to be before taking it on a hike. She explained that she was pregnant with her first, so she wasn’t sure about these things. My wife explained that it’s actually easier to go hiking with infants when they are younger because they just sleep a lot. The other lady looked relieved, as if she had expected to be unable to hike for the next 18 years.
Camping, even in suburb-like campgrounds, affords little ones many opportunities to explore and discover new things. Our little guy learned about throwing rocks in a stream, how not to chew on pinecones, how to pet a turtle and how biting on rocks hurts. Being outdoors entails risk—and that’s a good thing. That’s how they learn about the world. Plus, I like my kids to have dirt under their fingernails from an early age.
Of course I hear the cautionary voices in my head: There is lead and tetanus in the dirt, so you shouldn’t let it get under your infant’s fingernails. Turtles have germs. Pinecones might be poisonous. For every delightful thing about childhood, there is a boogeyman waiting to make it dangerous.
But here’s something we rarely hear: Maybe it’s dangerous to keep our kids in a disinfected, antibacterial, padded bubble. Maybe it’s dangerous not to take risks. Maybe risk and danger are everywhere in life, and we’ve just gotten really good at insulating ourselves from that reality. That sounds really dangerous to me.
I want my kids to have a sense of wonder and awe about the world from an early age. So, our little guy spent nearly a week sleeping in a tent, going on hikes, putting his feet in the stream and crawling in dirt. He loved it! And that’s the point. I hope he continues to love it for years to come. I hope to go on our thousandth camping trip together when he’s a teenager and hear him say, “Thanks for introducing me to the outdoors and helping me love it.” This past week was a baby step toward cultivating that love of exploration and wonder that I hope he takes with him for the rest of his life.