Completely new experience for me this weekend: I got to be a dad for a whole weekend. I've babysat from time-to-time, and I love it, but this was my longest stint yet.
Our church organized its first father/daughter campout, in response to the decrying of unfairness regarding the long-running father/son campout. This was to be tent camping at a Thousand Trails RV park in Morgan Hill, CA, near San Jose.
I felt a burden on my heart to take Aislynn, the daughter of my friend Amy. Amy's ex isn't super involved with his kids even on his weekends with them, and I see the subtle effects of that in their behavior and emotions. I've attempted to take the three boys to the father/son campout the last few years, but those campouts have always been on his weekends. But this trip worked out to be on Amy's weekend.
The only thing I was nervous about was the drive to (and from) the campground. Two and a half hours in a car, just me and a chatterbox five-year-old (Amy said her house would be so quiet with only the three BOYS around), I would need some help with this. Not being an official parent myself yet, I'm still of the high-and-mighty opinion of not plopping a DVD player or video game in front of a child while traveling to shut them up. I hope I still hold to that when I have my own kids, but I do acknowledge I have a lack of experiential history in making that lofty opinion.
So I tried to find another father and daughter to carpool with, and thankfully my friend Bryan came through for me. His daughter Avery is 10. Only after arranging the carpool did Amy tell me that Aislynn loves and gets completely absorbed in coloring while driving. She was no trouble whatsoever for the drive.
Bryan has an insane sweet tooth (there are regularly five to ten half gallons of different flavors of ice cream in their freezer at home), and had seen a Dairy Queen commercial for Blizzards on internet TV two days earlier and was still thinking about it Friday. We don't have a DQ in Fresno, but there is one in Los Banos, on our way to Morgan Hill. He whispered to ask and make sure I was okay with dessert for Aislynn. So we stopped for blizzards. Aislynn loves the cartoon (?) Strawberry Shortcake, so picked the flavor Strawberry CheeseQuake. She loved all but the cheesecake bites, so I undertook the oh-so-difficult dad duty of eating them for her.
We arrived Friday afternoon and setup camp. I did have Aislynn help with setting up the tent as much as possible, and she did a pretty decent job for only being five. It was funny watch her try to connect the tent poles. I really struggle with the "faster to do it myself" mentality, but I really tried to put effort into giving her things to do. Thankfully this is just a small two-man tent and very easy to assemble even solo.
We had been told Friday dinner was on our own, so we had been planning on heading out after setting up our tents to find dinner, but the organizers had so much extra tri-tip and sides, that we were invited to join them. Amazing!
Bryan set up his slack line for all of us to practice our balancing and walking the tightrope, so that kept many of the dads and girls entertained. Aislynn spent most of the evening playing with some of her friends who had come, which I was very happy to see. She and her brothers are a little less connected in church because they're only there every other Sunday. Aislynn struggles with it the least because she's incredibly social, but it still made me glad to see more bonding. They were running in and out of their various tents, but I had laid down the law that neither she nor her friends were to go in our tent until she was ready for bed, and that shoes/sandals always had to be left on the tarp outside the tent.
I was texting pictures periodically to Amy, and Amy had warned me about her playing the scared card come bedtime, and just told me to use an authoritative voice. I had witnessed several bedtime battles of either Amy or me trying to put Aislynn to bed back at home, so I was armed and ready. And she shocked me by going to bed so easily when I told her it was time. No fussing or whimpering whatsoever. The only "are you serious?!?" moment came when she was all tucked in and said, "Wait, don't I need to brush my teeth?" to which I replied, "It's okay, we're camping, you can do it tomorrow."
Our tent was in sight and easy walking distance of the well-lighted bathrooms, and I left her with a flashlight and went back to join the other dads for some socializing, but after another half hour or so, I was so tired from a fitful sleep the night prior, that I gave up and went to bed myself around 10. I was worried about how I'd sleep given my terrible history of trying to sleep when camping, and knew the light of morning would really kill me, so I was even more motivated to get to bed early. I had my tonsils out in January to treat my sleep apnea, and was hoping and praying that would help me sleep better also.