We just got back from a week on the French River (an historic waterway and stunning bit of land and river about three hours north of Toronto). My kids have done a lot of camping with me, and we've paddled, but I've never challenged them to do an extended trip that required them to work in quite this way. They were game from the start, and I was super excited about our adventure!
However, everyone was a bit grouchy on the first day. There was general grumbling about paddling and living in tents for the next week; there was the predictable bickering between the kids; I was edgy and distracted after the drive and with mental reviewing of gear and food. We were on the river for less than an hour (in fairness, paddling into a stiff headwind) when I brought the hammer down. I launched into a tirade about how lucky we were to live in such a beautiful country. To have clean water to swim and paddle in (and drink, with a bit of help from a great filter). I lectured that our country (the colonial version) was built on canoe trips along this very river. These were skills that they had the responsibility to learn as Canadians. It was a privilege to be here and I had had just about enough complaining.
My lectures rarely have a great impact (who's do?). I'm sure they tuned me out. But they stopped grumbling. And it stayed that way! Over the next five days these two city kids learned to shit in the woods (properly), pitch their tent, use a compass, read a map, paddle a boat efficiently, and portage gear. They rediscovered one another, worked as a team, solved problems and spent time together - by choice! They swam, built fires, jumped off cliffs, ate in the rain, and were tougher than many adults I know. We saw otters and turtles, eagles and herons. We talked religion and politics, worked through various forms of angst, made up stories, and learned new songs. We got scraped and tanned and dirty and tired. Our circadian rhythms adjusted to the rising and setting of the sun. We snuggled and laughed. We filled our lungs and we filled our souls.
We're back in the city now. Time will tell how quickly we'll all revert back to itching for digital distractions. I'm already up waaay past when my body tells me I should be. The bickering has begun again. I think we're already looking forward to next summer ...