Tag Archives: camping

Sleeping Bag Talks

I’ve reached four summits this summer: Shasta, Thielsen, Wizard Island, and Lassen. I definitely felt a need to stretch my legs for various reasons. But my handy desk dictionary lists another definition for summit: “a meeting among heads of state.” These meetings are often referred to as summit talks, and I just had one a few days ago. Except in our family they’re now called “sleeping bag talks.”

I think of my sons as heads of states. They are the heads of themselves, and so I need to check in with them every now and then, to regroup, and to just talk. I used to have lofty ideas of holding monthly “family meetings” about what was going on in our lives, what we need to work on, what we’d like to do, etc. Of course, nothing that structured could actually materialize. If I were to walk into their rooms on a Sunday afternoon (which my delusional self always thought would be a good time for a talk) and say, “Hey, guys, let’s have a family meeting!” they would be all, Are you serious? That’s so Brady Bunch, Mom. No, they’d be much too busy building Lego/playing Halo/Googling Everything. And so, I have to sneak in my family summit talks. I’ve learned to strategize.

Take our recent camping trip, for example. What else do you do in an 8 x 9 tent with your sons on either side of you and one of them can’t sleep because you forgot to give him his medication until late in the afternoon and it’s keeping him up? That’s right, you talk. When autistic/ND kids want to talk, you go with it. Carpe diem.

I can’t remember when I’ve had more fun talking with my boys! Nigel started off with a discussion about time travel, influenced by having watched Back to the Future for probably the fifty-eighth time. But, unlike his usual one-sided talk about how he was going to make his own time machine and what he would do with it, he wanted to converse. He asked both Aidan and me what we would do if we had a time machine. After talking about famous people we wanted to meet (Abraham Lincoln and Charles Dickens), and then talking about all the presidents who were assassinated and possible reasons why, I came up with the suggestion of going back a hundred years and buying stock in Coca Cola.  The boys yelled “Genius!” and high-fived me in the dark. Then we talked about what we would do with the money. I must admit that, aside from saying we’d use some of the money to help out friends and family, we’re not the most altruistic bunch. Aidan wanted to start his own company (now it was my turn to high-five him), Nigel wanted a room full of Lego (which, in my opinion, he already has), and I wanted to travel more and be able to take the boys with me.

And after a while, Aidan fell asleep, and then Nigel turned to me, as if he had been waiting, and asked, “When did you first see signs that I had autism?” And I told him that when he was about two and a half I realized that he wasn’t trying to talk or interact, and that by the time he was three, after some evaluations by doctors and therapists, it was determined that he had autism. I couldn’t discuss – yet – the complexities of his sensory issues, the way he screamed and writhed on the floor of grocery stores and restaurants, not because he was having a tantrum, but because someone had turned on an electric coffee grinder. I couldn’t tell him – yet – about how he lined up his toy cars along the back of the couch and laid his head to one side and stared at them while he sucked his fingers instead of driving them around on the floor making engine noises. I don’t know if he’s ready to hear about all that yet. But I knew that he could understand the not-talking part. As soon as I mentioned it, he said, “Probably I was just taking my time.”

And since it was dark, I did not wipe away the tears streaming down the sides of my head. I said, “Yes, Nigel, I’m sure you were. And I’m glad that you learned to talk. But if you didn’t, that would be okay, too.”

And then he said, “Mom? With that money we get from time traveling, how about if we give some of it to other kids who have autism so they can have speech therapy to learn to talk?”

I hugged him and told him we could certainly do that.

Next time we go camping, I better bring a whole box of tissues.

Mountains and Milestones

Nigel at Mt. Lassen summitAn adventurous spirit runs through Nigel’s blood from both sides of the family. In spite of his fear of bees and other flying insects, he tackled Mt. Lassen with a fervor usually reserved for Lego-building. I, having climbed Mt. Shasta earlier this summer, was impressed and proud.

He was often ahead of me on the 5-mile round-trip trail, which isn’t long compared to the 14 miles for Mt. Shasta, but for a 13-year-old climbing his first mountain, it was quite an accomplishment. He noted with excitement that this, at 10,457 feet, was the highest he’d ever been on land.

Meanwhile, Aidan had a fun time kayaking with Grandma around the lake. She said that he followed her instructions and they made a great team.

Day 2:

Nigel, sore from yesterday’s climb, has a bee-induced meltdown while on an interpretive trail in a section of the park called the Devastated Area. I’m not joking; it’s really called that. I can laugh about it now. On the way back to camp, I realize that I deserve the Slacker Mom of the Year Award for not reminding Nigel to take his medication. We had packed it, but he had forgotten to take it. I note once more, after the meltdown, that the medication really does help, because of how his behavior is affected when he doesn’t take it.

Meanwhile, Aidan stayed in the car.

Ranger MadelineDay 3:

We got to see my mom in action doing one of her Ranger programs! Here she is holding a bobcat skull. It has been her dream since childhood to be a Ranger at Lassen National Park, and this summer she achieved it! Way to go, Mom! 

After the program, we started on our drive home, stopping at Burney Falls State Park in northern California. I had been here over twenty years ago, and the falls are just as beautiful as I remembered them. I was happy to be able to share the experience with my sons.

Meanwhile, Aidan refused to be in the photo. But he agreed that the falls were pretty!Nigel at Burney Falls


One Last Trip

We are off to Lassen National Park, getting in one last camping trip before summer’s over! Nigel will be hiking up the 10,457-foot peak with me while Aidan (not into hiking so much) joins Grandma for a canoe ride on Manzanita Lake. My mom works as an interpretive ranger at the park, so it will be fun to see her lead one of her ranger programs. We’ll return Thursday with a full report! 

S’mores and Semantics

My sons, who have been visiting their father in LA for several weeks, will return in a week, and I plan on taking them camping soon. We’ve camped a lot over the years, as a family and with Nigel’s Scout troop, and Nigel’s favorite part of camping, like most kids’, is eating s’mores.

A few years ago we camped at Yosemite, and a month or so before the trip, I started to show Nigel pictures of Yosemite and told him that we’d be camping there that summer. At the mention of camping, he asked, “Can we have s’mores?” And I said, “That’s a great idea! You’ll have to remind me before we go to Yosemite.” Nigel, after a few seconds, got a blank look on his face and said, “But I just did.”

I forgot that his mind interprets things so literally. He wouldn’t know the implication that the reminding should take place a day or two before the trip, so that I could buy and pack the ingredients. All I had said was “remind me before we go to Yosemite,” but I didn’t say when exactly.

It makes me wonder if he just accepts that the gooey treats are called s’mores in the same way that cake is called cake and candy is called candy. That’s just what they’re all called. I think he was about ten years old when he went through a why phase, similar to preschoolers asking why the sky is blue. Only, with Nigel, he would ask why the color blue was called blue. Why is cereal called cereal? Why is that a tiger? After many of these nomenclature origin-type of questions, I would reply (slightly exasperated), “We don’t ask why; that’s just what they’re called.” I often wonder if he really wanted to know the meaning of the word, or if he wanted to know the origin of the word, or if he was just asking his “why” questions because he discovered that if he asked a question, the other person would respond to him. It was the next step on his quest to connect with people. He just didn’t know how to structure the questions. Except for “Can we have s’mores?” He mastered that question for sure.