(I wrote this at Camp Mather, but didn't get a chance to write more. The rest of the sordid story will be doled out later).
I've been hearing about Camp Mather since I procreated (it seems to be a piece of knowledge shared amongst the breeders; I lived in SF for over a decade as a non-breeder and never heard it mentioned). Now I am there. Amongst the SF family set, it is legendary. Families enter into lotteries each winter to vie for the rights to spend a week at Camp Mather. Lucy's preschool teacher has been coming every year since she was a child.
I have the feeling here that I am the only one here for whom this is not a dream vacation. Yesterday when we were waiting in line, someone asked someone else, "Where else do you vacation?" and the second someone said, "Well, we come here every year, and of course, Disneyland." I suppressed a shudder. I dread that mouse.
Like Disneyland, we spend a lot of time waiting in line. We wait in line for every meal (my husband made the mistake of praising the concept of having every meal ready-made at set times, and I icily warned him that he was treading on thin ice. "But when do you make me three meals a day?" he asked, before he backpedaled: "Of course, the food at home is MUCH better"). Anton usually skips out of the line, leaving me to watch the children and hold our place in line.
The trip here was more onerous than it should have been. Although our driving instructions were simple, we managed to screw it up and end up taking an hour-long detour (although this was interesting for me personally, slightly, as I ended up seeing a bit of Lodi, where a high school classmate had lived, a classmate of particular interest as my friend Kim and I had sort-of-enjoyed a strange group flirtation with him).
Additionally, my children are the sort of children who ask you constantly, "Are we there yet? How much longer? How much now? When will we be there?" I considered making a rule that I would flick Iris with my index finger each time she asked "Are we there yet?" to provide some negative reinforcement, but I am not quite ready to go there yet into the land of physical punishment, no matter how slight.
So we got here lateish, missing dinner, and Sat. was spent just packing, driving, and unpacking. On Sunday, we discovered how to wait in line at the dining hall, we rode our bikes (this is frustrating for me in particular, as my bike is spectacularly unsuited for riding on unpaved paths. I'm riding an elderly racing bike, with skinnyskinny tires, which requires me to lean waaaay over aerodynamically to hold the handlebars. I'm envying everyone on sensible, beaten-up mountain bikes, not to mention the next door neighbors, with their Burning Man bikes with the fabulous fake fur covered baskets), the children swam in the pool, and Iris fell into the lake dramatically (Iris was fine, but traumatized bystander Lucy cried for ages).
Sleeping was not easy. Our tiny cabin has multiple beds, none of which are particularly comfortable. The children woke up a lot in the night, calling out for reassurance.
There was a warning at the office that there is a bear currently patrolling the camp for scrounging opportunities, and Anton and I were punctilious about clearing away our snacks before we wento bed. However, we had some chocolate milk and lemonade in our cooler, and we left that in front of our minuscule cabin. We didn't discuss it, but we were both thinking that we needed to put away food, not drink. In the middle of the night, I was awakened by a noise. Although I had never heard this noise before, I instantly recognized it as the sound of superhuman forces being applied to our cooler. I woke up Anton. Although I knew it was a bear, I tried to downplay it to him to get him to deal with it. "Something's getting into our cooler." He thought it was just a neighbor and ignored it. I pressured him. Anton claims I pushed him out the door, but my opinion is that I just followed him, out of some sense that it would be unfair if he were alone in accosting a bear. He skittered out and grabbed our cooler, which was covered with wet filth. On closer examination, one of the handles had been sheared off, and there were tremendous toothmarks in the lid. I need to pee, but I held it in (the cabins have no bathrooms), as "there's a bear out there!", Anton remarked.
The next morning, Anton found the mangled carcasses of chocolate milk drink boxes next to a mighty pile of bear excrement. He disposed of the drink boxes, lest our guilt be discovered. We both felt like asses. We are allegedly experienced backcountry campers, unaccustomed to the cushiness of staying in cabins, and we screwed up royally. I feel awful that we contributed to the corruption of a bear, encouraging the bear to scrounge from humans, which can lead to it being executed by the Park Service to protect campers.
We had a disagreement over whether to tell the children, and haven't yet. City child Lucy started crying the first night when it got dark out of fear, and I didn't want to add to that. I felt vindicated in that decision when later in the day Lucy turned to me and said darkly, a propos of nothing, "We are going to be eaten." (As someone from rural Maine, I feel strange about the fact that my children are so frigging urban, but that's a subject for another day).
On Sunday, our first full day here, the one thing which I enjoyed was taking the children on a burro ride. There are horses for rent, but only for ages 7 and up. Our children qualified only for burro ride, which meant each parent leading a burro by a rope, free to go wherever we wished for one hour. At first Lucy covered her eyes with her hands and was quite frightened, but she soon loosened up and wished she could have a burro for her very own. Iris was enthralled from the beginning and called them "donkarinos" and formed strong opinions about how to pet them so as to motivate them to move onward. Leading the donkeys through a field full of wildflowers and butterflies, with no sounds but those of my happy children, I felt relaxed and joyful. This feeling wore off later.
I feel under a weird social pressure here. I've always heard how incredibly social Camp Mather is, full of frolicking San Francisco parents away from the pressures of the city, but we have yet to really hook up with anyone and find playmates for the children. There turned out to be a couple of families from Iris' old preschool, but they're camped all the way across on the other side, and Iris is about 2 years older than their children, who were a bit tongue-tied in addressing her. There's a family camped near us whom I should be hitting it off with royally, as the mother, whom i'd never met before, is on an email list with me. I had previously primed my Lucy that there would be another girl her same age near us to play with, but when we met that child, she'd already formed a friendship with a little girl she'd spent the afternoon with at the lake, and she took no interest in meeting Luce.
Last night, Anton felt under pressure to have some fabulous night of grown-up pleasure. Our friends Bob & Natasha had reported that after the children went to bed, the parents would sit up drinking wine by citronella candles and it was just delightful. We were both dog tired, but I sat up briefly after Iris went to bed out of spousal obligation.
Today held two pleasures: tie-dying and badminton. Twice a week the camp holds its signature tie-dying get-togethers, and the children had been eagerly anticipating it. "I'm gonna be a hippie!" said Iris repeatedly. Iris and Lucy made elegant spiral-dyed shirts, and Iris did a striped pair of pants as well.
Really, I do love your writing style. If you don't like camp blather, then fuck it, and vacation wherever makes YOU and YOUR family happy. I hate Disney too. I am just discovering the joys of not feeling obligated to like everything everyone else likes.
The problem is that Camp M DID make my kids happy. On a scale of 1-10, Camp M was a 9 or a 10 for Lucy and Iris, but a 2 or a 3 for me and Anton. Now when we went to Panama and Italy, those were 9s for me, pushing up towards the 10 category. Unfortunately Camp M is a lot more affordable than a foreign vacation.
Total non-camper here, and of course I have two boys! Maybe I could have handled your cabin... but an in-cabin bathroom would have been nice! Especially with the bear around! But Disney... that I can handle!
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