Think Fast! (aka: Improvisation in the Great Outdoors)

3 paddleboarders

What would you do?

One idyllic summer morning, you’re rowing your paddleboard across the middle of a large, sparkling blue lake. It occurs to you that you and your children have around 30 minutes left to return to shore and turn in your rental equipment. You row toward two of your children and give them the signal, and they begin rowing back. That’s when you notice that your youngest child has drifted away to the farthest shore. You call him back, but he is unable to turn his paddleboard around. He is stuck. You paddle hard in his direction and show him how to steer his board.

“I can’t do it!” he wails, drifting further away.

Time to think fast. Do you:

  1. Give him kind and loving encouragement (Come on, kiddo, you’ve got this!)
  2. Turn it into a fun adventure (The pirates are after us! We’ve got to escape the island!)
  3. Transform into a drill sergeant (Failure is not an option, soldier! Now row, row ROW!)

My answer: All of the above. Because sometimes you have to improvise until you find the best way to solve the problem. Sadly, all of these ideas failed, so in the end, I deserted his paddle board at a nearby marina and rowed my distraught little sailor back to safety twenty minutes after our time was up. But still, I tried.

What would you do? BearImprovisation. That is one of the great things about going camping with kids. In our complacent suburban lives, we don’t often come across so many opportunities to put our improvisational skills to the test. Sure, we have small moments when we have to make decisions on the fly (Pizza or hamburgers? Comedy or action film?), or minor breakdowns that cause us inconvenience, like when a tire goes flat (Stop and replace it or call roadside assistance?).

3 happy kiddos Mount Shasta

My 3 actual kiddos in front of said idyllic lake. Yes, this location was pretty-much perfect. Except for the thunderstorms.

But while camping many miles from home and supermarkets and people that we know, we have to learn to rely on ourselves. When things go wrong, especially when you are the only adult, you have to be quick on your feet. In the wilderness, the ability to reach into your mental (or physical) toolbox and problem solve can be a matter of life or death.

Okay, not really life or death. Unless there are bears and you’re out of bear spray. Because yeah, you could totally give up and go home. But quitting and going home is for losers.

Here are a few times when improvisation saved our most recent camping vacation:

Problem:         One of the fiberglass tent poles for our screen house splintered, rendering it unusable.

Solution:         Duct tape. Lots of duct tape. Duct tape can fix pretty much anything while camping. And if it doesn’t, then use more duct tape.

Problem:         We accidentally forgot to pack two meals’ worth of food.

Solution:         Our camp store just happened to sell eggs. Do you realize how many great meals you can make with eggs? Egg sandwiches, breakfast burritos, French toast… If that hadn’t worked, well, there were a lot of ground squirrels around. Just kidding. Kind of.

Problem:         Our tent zipper broke. As in, it came off completely.

Solution:         You thought I was going to say duct tape, didn’t you? That was plan B. We ended up using clothespins to clip the door closed. It did the job.

Of course, we had no way to solve the problem of our noisy campsite neighbors with their obnoxious kids and loud mariachi music. (Geez, did it have to be mariachi music? Talk about torture!).

I probably could have improvised – you know, talk to them and ask them to tone it down. Or offer them egg sandwiches. Or capture a few ground squirrels and set them free in their camp. But for all I know, that family could have improvised, too, by chasing me away with a can of bear spray, or worse, cranking up their mariachi music even louder.

That’s when we would have called it quits and headed home.

Summertime Dreaming

Less than two weeks of school…let the countdown begin! We educators are not very different from children when it comes to summer vacation. As the last day of school approaches, our eyes begin to glaze over, and our brains turn to mush. Really. It’s true. Right at this very moment, all I can think of is that theme song from the movie Meatballs. “Are you ready for the summer? Are you ready for the hot nights? Are you ready for the fireflies, the moonlit skies, and a whole lot of fooling around…” How can I possibly make it through these last few days? I have so many plans this summer, starting with:

1. Engage in some nice, relaxing Global Thermonuclear War

Ahhhh! While outside, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the air is filled with the fragrance of summer jasmine (well okay, smog), I will be parked in front of a computer screen, creating armies and trying to take over the world. I still haven’t tried Age of Empires Online. Wonder if it’s any good?

2. Wear a Bikini

Oh boy, I am still not so sure about this one! I have never ever worn a bikini. I have never had the body for it, and to be honest, I still don’t think that I do. But at the age of 36, this may be my last shot to try it out and get away with it, right? Geez, I am blushing already. Maybe wearing a bikini requires a kind of I’m Sexy and I Know It attitude, and I am just not there.

3. Drink a Beer

I know, I know, this one is completely ridiculous. How could I have gone so many years without ever trying a beer? I have nothing against beer. It is just that my choice of alcoholic drinks is usually a fine wine, or some fancy mixed drink. But good old, humble, reliable beer…never! I am still searching for the perfect opportunity to try it. Maybe during the Olympic Games? 4th of July? My 37th birthday?

4. Remodel My Sons’ Bedroom

My 12yo finally decided that he has outgrown the bright blue walls and cartoon vehicle wallpaper I put up when he was two years old. Now he would like olive green walls and cool decor, something suitable for a soon-to-be teenage boy. Unfortunately, he shares a room with his 7yo brother, who wants bright orange walls and a space theme. We’ll see if I manage to merge the two somehow.

5.  Write Write Write

Sure, I can make time to write blog articles or poetry. But the truth is, I am a fiction writer. Thanks to a busy school year, I have a huge backlog of stories to write or revise. At last, I will have time to sit at the computer and type. Well, after my three kids finish playing Roblox and Minecraft and Zoo Tycoon. Okay, maybe it is really time to buy another family computer!

Of course, there are also the usual activities, like camping, and swimming, and day trips with my kids. But who needs to plan such things? Summer is not a time for packed schedules and full calendars. It is an opportunity to kick back with the kids, watch movies, read books, and grill everything we eat. Yes, I am ready for the summer, and oh-so-ready for school to end. Then I shall don my sunglasses, pop open a Diet Pepsi (or a beer?), and cue the music: Summertime  by Will Smith. Ohhh yeah!!