How! How!

Posted by Danny

Every spring for the past nine years I’ve headed down to Camp Sea Gull with one of my daughters for a Y Indian Princess weekend outing.  DJ and I started going with nine other dads and their daughters in 2003. 

Y Princesses is a father/daughter program for kids in first through third grades.  It’s sort of like scouts – but you can’t do any activity without a dad/kid pair.  You earn patches for service projects, hikes and campouts.  One time we sorted pasta at the food bank – had to wear hair nets.  I didn’t like that. 

Each participant chooses an Indian name.  I was Screamin’ Hambone.  DJ chose Shining Star – booooring.  Stephanie was more compliant – she went with Little Screamin’ Hambone, a name suggested to her by her Big Brave.  Michelle chose T-Bird, a nickname I’ve used for her since she was 2. 

Michelle was my last kid in the program and this was my last trip down highway 70 to camp.  I’ll have to admit when we drove out of the camp gates on Sunday to head home, I sort of had a lump in my throat.

I’m not sure why.  These are not particularly fun weekends.

My first two tribes had some of the snorinest people I’ve ever heard in my life.  I used to take two Tylenol PM, put in ear plugs and hold two pillows around my  head – and I could still hear them.  Cherry Point Air Force Base is right across the Neuse River from camp.  I’d doze off a minute and wake up thinking a F1 Fighter Jet was about to land on the cabin’s devotional table.  I was afraid one of those dudes was going to snort one of the little princesses right up into his nostrils. 

Ten dads in bunk beds – me on the bottom, a 250 pound dude in the bed above with the mattress springs sagging down – inches from my protruding nose.  It’s like sleeping in a medium security penitentiary. 

There was a curtain draping the bathroom “stall”, the floor grittier than the Mojave desert.  The toilet paper like wiping your behind with sandpaper.  I’m still raw from last weekend, and I only went once.

In year two, the organizers of this program bring in a special act called Snakes Alive.  As if pooping behind a paper-thin curtain with 9 elementary aged girls you scarcely know running through the bathroom isn’t enough, they top your experience off with coolers full of reptiles. 

“Which dads out there want to hold the python today?” the handler asks.

Every child raises her hand and begins pointing to her father.  “Pick him!  Pick him!”

My kids knew better. 

“Dad, will you go up?”

“I’d rather sleep in a single bunk with Mr. Brown for three months.  PUT-YOUR-HAND-DOWN-NOW.”

And to top it off, there’s the annual ride down the zip line.

The zip line combines all of my favorite things:  heights, cold water, standing in line, and harnesses strapped around my crotch.  (This video is not of me – but it is at Camp Sea Gull).

I have to be honest though, as much as I complain, I really did enjoy almost every minute I spent in the Y Princess program.  My best friends are the men I’ve spent weekends with – chewing on politics on a freezing cold night by a campfire – melting marshmallow goop dripping on our winter boots.  The individual time I had just driving to and from our outings with my daughters was priceless.  And the memories from Camp Sea Gull…wow!

I’ve heard of a dad who stood up at his daughter’s rehearsal dinner.  He looked his new son-in-law in the eye and pulled out his daughter’s Indian vest.  “Take care of my little princess,” he implored as he passed him the buckskinned garment.  I may just do the same.

How! How!  Big Braves; How! How!

She’s Home!

Posted by Danny

I picked Michelle up from camp today.  When I arrived, she jumped into my arms – one of my favorite things in life.

She immediately said, “I have my bathing suit on under my clothes.  Our counselors told us to change because our parents were coming but I told them you had a blow up pool in the back of your car.  Just go along with it dad.”

It’s only been five nights, but holding her in my arms again is my favorite huge Father’s Day present.

Last year at camp she cried every breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I asked the counselor how this year went. 

“Did she cry a lot?”

Her young, enthusiastic counselor hesitated, “Well…”

I’m not sure what that means – but I get the impression we’re headed in the right direction.  Apparently she thought Tuesday was Wednesday.  So when she woke up on Wednesday and realized it wasn’t the day before she was going home, she was not a happy camper.  That’s what happens when you’re stranded somewhere without cable and internet access.  Camp is sort of like the movie Castaway.

Mid week I received a letter from her.  She informed me that she was having a GREAT time.  She also said, “I got a lot of letters today.  I must be very popular.”

Thanks to all who wrote.

She was most proud that she went down the zip line.  I don’t see the joy in it.  We go to this same camp every year in a YMCA father/daughter program called Y Princesses.  The goal of most of the dads is to get their child to go down the zip line.  My goal is to ensure that my kid doesn’t want me to go down the zip line with her.  There are three reasons –

1)      I don’t like heights – and after climbing five staircases you stand 60 feet in the air and have to jump off a ledge with a wire the size of Christmas ribbon between you and the ground.

2)      I don’t like cold – and the water, especially in early spring when the Y Princess program heads to camp, is freezing!  A child rides the zip line virtually to the land.  A 175 pound man drops in the middle of the pond and backstrokes a football field before getting his footing.  And the water would shock an Eskimo.

3)      The harness they strap you in to hook you up to the line is really uncomfortable.  It squeezes places that should not be squoozen.

I’m glad she mastered that – without her dad.  Next year on our outing to camp, maybe she’ll want to go down it with her friends.  I think that would be a brave thing for her to do.

She’s happy, she’s safe, she had lots of stories – and as I type she is sleeping right beside me.  All is good.

My Big Tent

Stephanie and Michelle entering the foyer

We just returned from our fourth annual Memorial Day Weekend camping trip.  We started this tradition with four other families and have hit different North Carolina parks each year.

I’m not sure why we go.  None of us are really camping people.  We’d be much more comfortable at the Ritz Carlton in Key Biscayne, Fla.  Of course, this is easier on the pocketbook, and I guess we all want our kids to spend some time outside looking at stars and enjoying nature and stuff.

One thing that keeps me from being a more frequent camper is the lack of adequate bathrooms.  In fact, on the way to Jones Lake in Elizabethtown, we took a 30 minute detour to my parent’s house in Fayetteville for one last pit stop before closing down the old plumbing until we got back home.  I called my dad to tell him we were coming and to stock each bathroom with a new roll of Charmin.  When we hit the driveway, we noticed the sign he’d hung on the door – “Clean Restrooms Available!”

I was glad we made that stop.  At the campground, the men’s bathroom had stalls but no doors; at least I didn’t see any from where I was standing (I didn’t actually go back there).  I have a phobia about no stall doors.

One time when I was the director of the Cary YMCA, I was making my nightly rounds.  I hit the men’s lockerrom and as always, began flushing all toilets since our male members seldom did.  I hit the three urinals and the first stall quickly – I was in a hurry as always.  When I flew into the second stall – the door was wide open –  much to my surprise, there was a man sitting there.  I didn’t really glance up until I was nose to nose with the dude.   

I ran to my office and stayed there until thirty minutes after the building closed.  I left all bathroom patrols to our maintenance staff from that day forward.

That incident scarred me.  I wonder how he’s doing.

Our family at the West Entrance

About six years ago my father-in-law asked me what I wanted for Christmas.  I suggested a pup tent built for two.  DJ and I had joined the YMCA’s Y-Princess program, and I knew we’d have to camp together once a year.  I told him there was a small tent, just our size, for $20 at Target. 

On Christmas Day, I opened my large box.  Inside was a $350 Sierra Design tent from REI – it slept six – adults.  David doesn’t always get you what you want – he often gets you what he thinks you need.  He makes up his mind, consults Consumer Reports and you get the top of the line!

I wondered what in the heck I was going to do with a tent that large.  It was more square footage than my first apartment.  The east wing had a closet and the dining room sat 8. 

To my surprise, I’ve used the dang thing 15 or 20 times over the years – often sleeping four or more folks.  David ws right, I did need a big tent.  One that I could be proud of.  In fact, one of my camping buddies had tent envy last year and showed up this year with an upgrade.  That made me walk a little taller around the campfire.

I don’t understand why they make tent and sleeping bag covers 12% smaller than the actual tent or sleeping bag.  I busted three blood vessels in my head trying to shove the dang sleeping bags back into the holders.  I nearly pulled my back out trying to squish all the air out of the blow up matress.  I was hugging it with both arms while I squeezed the middle with my legs.  I felt like a boaconstrictor; all this work to make a single matress fit in a carrying case the size of a sandwich bag.

My friend Martin can make wet wood burn. I think he's a Boy Scout or a Warlock.

At 2:30 am on Saturday night, my buddy’s truck alarm went off.  Lights were flashing and the horn was going nuts.  It scared the mess out of everyone – at least everyone in my tent.  I spent the next hour wondering what could have caused that alarm to go off.  I narrowed it down to three things – a mechanical malfunction, a theif, or a big animal.  The third potential was the most unnerving.  Heck, there was a bear walking around downtown Garner last week – imagine what could have been lurking in the woods in Bladen County, NC.

I saw Jeff walk by my tent to go check things out.  I briefly considered getting up and going with him, but I decided it would probably be better just to listen and keep my phone close.  Although I had a great tent, it wasn’t bear proof and we were the closest family to the cars. 

Last night after we were in our tent and the lights were out, the girls asked me to tell them a ghost story.  I shared about Crazy Nell who was killed right there in Elizabethtown many years before.  When I finished, DJ said, “I believe in ghosts.”  And Michelle added, “And the holy Catholic Church.” 

Our minister will be glad to know she’s been paying attention during the Apostle’s Creed.

I wish I could post more pictures but one of the moms there told me if I put a picture of her on this blog after a night of camping that Crazy Nell’s death would look tame compared to what she would do to me.  From her tone and the look in her eyes, I think she was serious.

Can’t wait until next year!  Thank you camping buds.

I'm allowed to publish this picture -these are the clouds that produced 10 inches of rain all over our camp site.

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