Survival skills with children


The thing we all seem to do as grown people with children is somehow convince ourselves that vacations to remote areas involving mountains and streams will be much appreciated by our kids, who let’s be honest would all rather be at Disney.

“Look at that beautiful naturescape!” I say.

“Do you see how the boulders are jagged and look like they were ripped open like French bread?” I utter.

The kids are ignoring me, partly because they are wearing headphones but also because I said the word “naturescape,” which is a total nerd thing to say, geez.

It all started off well, in the sense that my son threw a fit and there were arguments over where everyone would sit in the minivan. There was my son in a bookstore in Denver, demanding that I buy him a children’s Bible, and when I refused he threw the Bible on the floor screaming I WANT THIS BOOK AND NOTHING ELSE AND YOU ARE SO MEAN! I wanted to point out the irony since it was a Bible and Jesus taught patience and self-control, but I let that one lie and simply said “we aren’t buying that instrument of peace because I have to lug it home in a suitcase but instead I’ll get you this cool and very thin picture book from Pixar.”

But these things happen on vacation. We have to just deal.

We finally decided upon a class on natural survival skills, since we were in Estes Park and there were bears and maybe someday we might be caught alone in the woods.  So led by a dude named Daniel who smoked too much weed, we hiked for so long my daughter thought we had crossed state lines.  Even I was beginning to wonder if we couldn’t just perhaps visit about being stranded in the woods without the actual stranded-in-the-woods part. But he had cool long hair and a YETI hat so who was going to argue? When we finally landed deep into the forest, he informed us that the *most important skill* was for us to make a shelter. I thought it was s ’mores, but no one responded to that, so perhaps I’m wrong? I don’t think I’m wrong. But we sat down on a log, my daughter gasped for air and begged for water, and I was anxiously waiting to learn something valuable to pass on to my grandchildren about water collection or edible sap.

But wait! When Daniel says make a shelter, he really means we need to get into teams and actually make one! Right now! However we want! Take our time! And then he disappears without any further instruction, leaving us all just standing there like teammates on a reality show. So for an hour, me and the kids linked up with some random dude from Ohio and his smallish toddler and laid logs against a boulder.  I was pretty pissed, because I didn’t want to exert mental energy on a fake fortress that we weren’t actually going to use, and I didn’t see any value of rolling up my sleeves and playing grown-up Lincoln logs. If we were really stranded in the wilderness we’d probably eat poison berries and die of dehydration, huddling under some logs because we were woefully undertrained. But I’m the responsible parent so I played along, took pictures, and told the children that their fort-like shelter living room had lots of natural light.

Daniel comes back and says the time’s up folks, time to head back, your shelters look great, and oh-by-the-way you should also make a fire if you’re stuck in the woods for real.  Let’s be honest. Our shelters were terrible, primarily made by children who were distracted by ground squirrels. And we didn’t actually make a fire, because that’s unsafe. Says the man who didn’t mind lighting up earlier, so I found this highly hypocritical.

We headed back and my kids acted like we were forced to singlehandedly scale the Sierra Nevada pass. They drug their feet.  They whined.  They begged for granola bars. My daughter actually ate an apple I had in my backpack “to suck out the juice” with dramatic flair, even though we just ran out of water 2.65 minutes earlier. As a reward for her courage in walking across the mountains, however, I promised my daughter she could take an archery class.  Which was fun for 15 minutes until the lightning warnings shut us down and we had to hitch a ride back to base camp from some old wrinkled woman in a Honda.

So overall we had a great time in the naturescape. But the next time I get an itch and want to take my kids to the mountains, I may instead simply rent a movie about bears, let them make a fort in the living room with blankets, and make s ’mores in the back yard like the hard-core survivalist that I am.



(three w’s)