Camping. It conjures up images of the outdoors and kids running and playing, tree climbing and fire building. Sleeping in tents and hammocks under the stars, ghost stories, fort building and exploration. Laughter and rosy cheeked kids. Camping is freedom, it’s where kids can be kids without all the rules that follow them everywhere. For a lot of kids, it’s one of the few times they get outside and play, get dirty, and test themselves.
When camping in a campground, you meet like-minded people. People who deem it important enough for their kids to know the experience of camping, that they drop everything a few weekends per year and rough it. When Dan and I were first married I was still a city girl. I despised bugs and dirt and camping was something I endured because I wanted my kids to love it, like their dad. We would pack up a cooler and our tent and sleeping bags and head out to a forest road for the weekend. Our kids would climb trees and dig holes and catch lightning bugs and build forts. They’d hunt for firewood, cook marshmallows over the fire and burn all the paper products we’d used. At dusk we’d get dressed for bed and then sit around the fire telling stories and listening to them recap their day. We’d all fall asleep early and rise with the sun. At the end of the weekend, we’d go home with scratched up arms and legs, skinned knees and a plethora of lessons under our belts, totally renewed for the coming week.
No-one bothered us. We were out in the woods, away from the city and the watchful eyes of the powers that be. Even of late, traveling and camping in the RV, we typically avoid the campground scene, but on the rare occasion that we stop and utilize one for the showers or the creature comforts of electricity and running water,I can honestly say we’ve never once had a single problem with a fellow camper or camp host or owner or Ranger. It seems that everyone we meet is of the same mindset, they are there to escape the city, enjoy the fresh air, let their kids fly and have fun.
That is until our most recent trip to Rock Island State Park in, you guessed it, Rock Island, TN. Mind you we are 2.5 years into this adventure and this is the first time we’ve been harassed while camping! We were there for the sole purpose of picking up new boats. But the river was running and we’d been out of the water snowboarding for 6 months. With Team Trials around the corner, we decided to hang for the weekend and surf, run Sieve City (if it was running) and take the littles on the Class II river run below the wave.
We had high hopes for an adventure filled weekend. Unfortunately, the only constant in life is that nothing ever stays the same and Rock Island is no exception. What was once a laid back, totally chill campground was now home of the rogue Ranger whose sole purpose was to ruin fun. Like the Grinch stealing Christmas, only this guy literally steals fun. Literally within 30 minutes of our arrival everything went south.
This particularly odd and disturbing tale started when a bunch of the kids came back to the RV, where I was snuggling with a sick little Emmy, and told me a “super mean” lady had screamed at Brody to “get out of that tree.” Not new to the fact that there are people who equate tree climbing with delinquency, we chuckled at the absurdity and the kids went back to the business of playing, and I went back to snuggling Emmy. End of story, right? Nope.
A few minutes later, Emmy fell asleep and Dan was working so I grabbed my shoes and jumped out of the RV to go play with the kids. As I hopped out I turned and was face to face with a very large man. He pretty much scared the heck outta me. His response? “Startled you.” How long had he been standing there? No, ”I’m sorry.” Nothing, just a statement of fact.
If you know me, you know I don’t take too much seriously. But, if you mess with my kids, you’re going to meet a whole new side of me … good or bad, it doesn’t matter. Approach me with respect, have a reasonable complaint and we’ll be fine. I’m well aware that I don’t have perfect kids, they screw up, that’s the nature of the human race, but kids in particular. But, come at me like a caged bull and sputter off ridiculousness and we are going to have a problem.
We had a problem. He even stated so. He said, “we have a big problem.” I smiled, I forced myself to smile, and said, I know, the kids were in trees. “No. They were on the roof.” “No,” I said, “they were in trees …” and it went downhill from there. I’m not a negotiator, I’m not a PR magnate. I’m just a mom, who is really really sick of the village and it’s mentality toward children. I think the lives our kids lead are ridiculously sedentary. I think we’ve tried to sanitize their environments so much that we have taken the meaning of childhood and destroyed it. He proceeded to inform me that climbing trees and running ran the risk of damaging the park.
Running? Oh my gosh. This was bordering on the absurd. I’m surprised he could keep a straight face.
I informed him the kids were aware of the rules now, but he couldn’t let it go. Maybe I looked like his ex, but he wanted a piece of me. He turned up the heat.
“You’ve been here before, you already knew the rules.” Oooooookay? I’m aware of the posted rules, not the arbitrary ones, and “no climbing trees” and “no running” are not posted anywhere. At all.
And it went on and on, maybe 5 minutes before I’d had it. He sputtered on about things like: He’d just spent a ton of money revamping the park, trees were expensive, running posed numerous risks to vines and habitats of small animals. He threatened everything from kicking us out to billing us for damages. He said he’d been there for years and years and he knows who we are and he proceeded to make up some pretty epic tall tales, one, in particular, really caught my attention. He told me he busted my kids making a fort in the woods the last time and he told them to “scat”, and now they owed him money because he had to dismantle the fort. What? First, that never happened, second, they owe him money?
Instantly it occurred to me that this man was, indeed, crazy. We literally haven’t been to this campground in over a year and a half! What was he talking about? At that point it no longer mattered. My kids were in trees, they were told to get down, they adhered to that directive (for now). Problem solved. The End.
But not for him, never for him. I swear he would have stood there posturing and lecturing me for his entire shift. I eventually threw up my hands and got Dan, who, to his credit, is so much more patient than I. The Ranger tired of lecturing someone whose eyes glassed over and just nodded. He finally left.
I’ve been to hundreds of campgrounds from Maine to California and never ever have I encountered such insanity. Such arrogance. If you’d asked me 1 hour prior what our favorite campground was, Rock Island was up in the top 3. The bathrooms aren’t terribly clean, but they aren’t dirty either, but the water (in the off season, which is the only time we’ve ever been there) is crazy hot and the people have always been super nice. Like SUPER nice. So chill in fact, that three years ago, Kerry and Brody got locked in the Rangers Station! Watch this video … it’s hysterical!!
At any rate, the Ranger actually had the audacity to tell me trees cost in upwards of thousands of dollars and that he’d be taking a very careful look at the ones he “suspected” the kids were in and would be sending a bill if any looked damaged. I’ve never heard such nonsense, nor seen such a huge deal made out of kids climbing trees. Of course the ban is absurd, but not nearly as absurd at how it was dealt with. To reiterate, the kids were climbing trees, not destroying property.
It’s so incredibly disappointing to me to encounter people who truly despise children. Who think it’s ok to treat them like crap and who are willing to go the extra mile to accost them for things that are so totally innocent. I’m so sick of hearing about kids being treated as though they are all drug addicted, vandalising, shoplifting, back talking, disrespectful punks, when all they are simply playing, the way we all did.
To look at kids playing outside you must see that they are living life to it’s fullest. By watching them you truly see what it means to live with vigor … to run, to laugh, to explore, to push boundaries, to climb, to test your own limits … why would anyone want to interfere? Kids know how to live, but eventually due to constant persecution for being a kid, they grow up into adults like Ranger Rick and forget how to have fun, how to live.
And why does a Ranger take such a hard stance against tree climbing?
If running and climbing are banned in the forest, what is next? This should actually be a wake up call. It seems kids are losing the carefree days of childhood in which they can be loud and run and climb and play and be free. There is no avenue for boys and girls to simply BE. Listen outside your window, when is the last time you heard kids playing a game of kick the can or hide and seek? Riding their bikes or running through sprinklers?
Electronics and video games, TV and Fast Food have taken over our children’s lives, replaced even conversation and the family dinner table. They are indoor kids. I remember back, my mom would literally kick my brother and I out of the house and lock the door. We had a pool pass, we had bikes, roller skates, a creek and neighborhood friends. If that wasn’t good enough, tough. We never went to summer camp, we were on swim team and played soccer and baseball for a few seasons. What we did do was learn who the heck we were. Kids today are searching for themselves. They are lost.
Climbing trees is a metaphor of sorts for life. At first it seems daunting, impossible even. But you start looking for low hanging branches that are easy to reach and help you propel yourself upwards. As you get older and stronger you start climbing higher and higher. Dan remembers climbing so high his little head would stick out of the top and the tree would sway back and forth. He remembers this so fondly that he always smiles when telling the stories. He learned perseverance and toughness from his childhood. He learned how to survive and thrive. He would cave and hike, camp and bike. He flew off the handlebars more times than he can count. He caught snakes and (gasp) made bombs. He built treehouses and fought with with brothers. All these things, all the things of Dan’s childhood, that made him who he is, are too wild for our sterile society.
Today, all these things are deemed too dangerous. I’ve blogged about this phenomenon before. Across the country we’ve been yelled at for climbing trees, climbing the outside of slides, running fast, caving, climbing, kayaking, biking, etc. Bombs are out of the question, just think Columbine. When people see photos of our children holding airsoft guns, they flip OUT. In fact, the featured image on this post was met with gazillions of emails saying how Unsafe it was to have fire around children. I’m aware that fire is dangerous, that’s why I’m there and that’s why my 15 year old son is holding the stick with marshmallows on it, instead of the 2 year old. But this is an experience. This is fun, it’s learning at it’s most organic level. Come on let’s let our kids live some. It’s as if we would prefer to live in a society that is risk free. All sorts of activities are being banned from tree climbing to tobogganing … our kids don’t stand a chance.
Can you imagine if people thought this way 50 years ago? We never would have reached the moon! The Apollo missions were not without risk, in fact, they weren’t without tragedy. Those astronauts were brave and strong and resisted the urge to allow fear to govern their actions. In today’s society, who the heck is going to man the next space exploration? Who is going to fight for our freedom? Who is going to keep us safe or fight fires? Any kids you know going to have the courage and the strength for State Patrol? Mining? Even oil rigging?
The kids today are being raised to be fearful, skittish, and hesitant. they are told they can’t do this and they can’t do that. Be careful, watch out, get down … Rules governing play follow them everywhere. We’ve become such strict authoritarians … even on the playground. We force kids to play with the toys and the structures the way they were intended, period.
We insist they play calmly outside, that they don’t play too rough. We tell them don’t play with fake guns, don’t play too hard, one person on the swing at a time, keep your shoes on, stay out of puddles, don’t get dirty … the list is endless. The end result is very few kids are outside figuring out life, entertaining themselves, dreaming, pretending, laughing, growing and strengthening their resolve.
They are neither learning self reliance nor gaining real, honest self worth.
But, kids who are allowed to play freely imagine, dream and invent. Kids who are allowed the freedom to just play aren’t robots. They question, they seek, they doubt and they seek answers.
Free play allows kids to grow and flourish in varying environments, to try and fail, to fall down and get back up. Kids who learn this early on in life are the very adults who don’t lose their enthusiasm to follow their dreams because they meet a roadblock. They are the innovators, the inventors, the entrepreneurs, the creatives and the policy shapers. They are progressive and they change lives.
From free play, kids learn who they are and what they are capable of. They aren’t just told these things, they discover them for themselves!
Compare your childhood to your kids’, how do they differ? Perhaps they are too scheduled? Too governed? Too occupied by electronics? Too stessed? Too overwhelmed? Too many rules?
Make changes. Make changes. Make changes. We have to be the change!
As Bob Marley said, “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice …” We want our kids to be strong. We NEED our kids to be strong!