When I was five years old, my older sister Emma and I were members of the Girl Guides – a youth empowerment organization designed to promote confidence and leadership. She was called a Brownie, and she had a smart brown uniform with a sash to display all the merit badges she earned. I was a member of the Sparks, a different group for younger girls. We wore pink shirts and met once a week to sing songs about friendship. I remember being annoyed at the curly-haired woman in charge (also called the den mother), because she never picked me to lead the group in song – a bitter regret I’ve held onto all these years.
One week, my sister came home excited; she was going to a sleep-away camp! Her entire troupe would be going to a campsite, where they would roast marshmallows, sleep in cabins, and explore the forest. I was pumped! This was going to be great! At the next Sparks meeting, I happily told my friends all about the camping trip, and about how thrilled I was to be going. The woman in charge, her stiff, hair-sprayed curls standing on the top of her head, narrowed her eyes and said: “the camping trip is just for Brownies. You’re not going.” Complete and utter devastation does not describe the scene that followed. Tears filled my eyes, and I started sobbing with all the might of a broken-hearted child. My little friends, not completely understanding why, also started to bawl. One after another, every little girl in the troupe started crying and wailing. At this point, my dad arrived to pick me up, and was met with ten sobbing, snot-dripping, utterly bereft five-year-olds and one stressed out den mother. Bewilderment on his part would be an understatement. I chokingly told him that I couldn’t go on the camping trip, and how it wasn’t fair. My dad, taking my hand, said “don’t worry. We’ll have our own camping trip at home.” We left the meeting, as the other parents arrived to pick up their own desperately unhappy daughters.
When the time came, Emma and our mother packed up the station wagon and headed off to camp. I stared at them through the window like some tragic heroine who’d lost her husband to the sea. Sighing, I turned around and there was my dad, smiling, holding a bag of marshmallows and a pack of hot dogs. “You ready to go camping?” he asked. That night, we skewered hot dogs on sticks and cooked them in the fireplace. We laughed as we roasted an entire bag of marshmallows, most of them congealing into puddles of goo on the hearth. At bedtime, Dad pulled open the lumpy fold-out couch, and we slept in sleeping bags, pretending we could see the stars. I drifted off happily to sleep, our “camping trip” having thoroughly exhausted me.
That night is one of my earliest and best memories of my dad. All it took was some marshmallows and long sticks from the garden, and we had a night that I still remember lovingly thirty years later. My dad later admitted that the fold-out couch gave him terrible back pain, but he slept on it anyway. If that isn’t the ultimate dad move, I don’t know what is – other than wearing socks with sandals (and bonus dad points if he wears a fanny pack as well).
Eventually, our family went camping at an actual campsite, which was really fun. We slept in a bright green tent (that smelled musky and damp), went swimming, and cooked meals on a tiny Coleman propane stove. It was a wonderful experience, but still – it doesn’t compare to the first time I went “camping” with my dad. He taught me how to whistle, snap my fingers, and make the world’s best crêpes. He was emotionally supportive; there were many times I sought him out for comfort and reassurance, and many times I cried on his shoulder. He taught me how to be a good listener – something that I’m trying to instill in my kids. He’s perfectly imperfect, and I wouldn’t want him any other way.
Personal Observations: T
1) he comparison to Merv is imperfect as the man appears to have done something that wasn't immediately fun.
2) Sarah appears to have been the sort of child who simply had to be everywhere her big sister was and turned into a blubbering wreck howling about no one wants her anywhere when she was left out of things.
3) Also, we ain't ever going to talk about her husband's parenting, not with Sarah rocking the Mom Martyr deal.