I went camping with my boyfriend and my son together for the first time.
Let me clarify.
It was the first time I went on a camping trip with my new boyfriend. We had started dating the month before and things were going well. He was easy to get along with and, although we were concerned about long term compatibility, we were mostly content to enjoy the moment. He didn't seem to mind dealing with the fact that I was a single mom and applauded me for my efforts in investing in my child's development. He was nice to my kid, which is really the extent to which a girl in my position can ask for without crossing a line. This guy took really good care of me, something that I had been missing in a life partner for a while up until this point, so I was lapping him up; trying my best not to be over-gluttonous (clearly, I wasn't ashamed of a little gluttony).
And, it was the first time I was taking my kid, who lives with moderate autism, camping. The kid's atypical sensory processing is hard to judge and is more than a little exhausting when it's off kilter more than usual, which is all dependent on his ability to cope...or not (which, in itself, is dependent on things like rest, health, eating right, clothing fabrics/tags, potty issues, new environments, routines...you get the point). I've committed to making sure that he experiences as much as he can, as much as I am able to manage as his mom. That's really the crux of it: I have to have a pretty decent inner reserve in order to help him manage and cope through new sensory experiences. I do the best I can as a single career-professional. I am by no means perfect, but I give it my best shot.
Thank goodness for a good group of camping friends!
The choice to haul a bunch of stuff into the middle of the woods and "set up house" is not one easily made. Camping is a lot of work. Period. But, with the right people, it is also a lot of fun!
The three of us were sort of having fun. We were learning, which is really all I can say.
The kid's initial meltdown (loud and obnoxious) mellowed into a resigned curiosity. He asked about going home a couple of times that first night. I didn't blame him. After all that fuss, I wanted to go home too. I felt so bad for my boyfriend who had basically had to set up our tent by himself, while I managed the spazzed-out little human. I tried to make it up to him much later that evening, but I don't think he'll ever understand how much I appreciated his hard work.
The next day was stormy: literally and figuratively.
We were experiencing a pretty forceful spring storm, which ended up lasting a solid half of the day, though it was an off-and-on kind of thing. The guys tied up tarps so that we would have shelter outside of the tents. We gathered our camping chairs close together and talked about how big the raindrops were.
My kid, who at the time was dealing with an Angry Bids obsession, was trying to overcome his disappointment (which was always loudly conveyed) at the lack of power supply to support his (my) technical devices. It was unfair to expect him to cold-turkey off the game, so I would charge the phone using the car-jack every now-and-then handing over the distraction at opportune times - hating myself for giving in to the easy-way-out; knowing that I should have just let him out-think his boredom.
We enjoyed a bit of rock crawling that day. My nerves were high, not really knowing if the kid would enjoy the bumpy ride or not. I was on edge the entire time, on alert for when he suddenly decided he'd had enough. It didn't come. For some of the extreme bumps, he'd look to me for assurance that this was indeed "fun" and that we weren't in danger. Every single time I gave him a full smile to brush off his misgivings. The truth was the ride was one of the roughest I had ever been on, and we stayed out for a really long time. By the end of it, I was supremely low on any reserves and didn't have much patience when the kid started whining about not wanting to stop.
Back at camp, I headed straight to the tent, told him to lay down and about passed out. I didn't completely let go for sleep, because my mommy-sense was still on high. There was no one else to care for the kid - I didn't expect the boyfriend to do it since he was laying out on the air mattress beside me - and I didn't want to ask one of the other families. They were extended friends, and though I am sure they wouldn't have minded, I wasn't in the frame of mind to ask. I rested poorly. Eventually, I decided to get up, not being able to stand the fitful tossing anymore. The boyfriend was hardcore snoozed-out. I was envious. The kid was a-flutter with energy and I hoped it meant that he would sleep well that evening. I headed over to his part of the tent and inspected his pallet. My heart sank. Lake Superior was stealthily hiding underneath his sleeping bag. I assume that a zip seal wasn't closed properly on his side of the tent before the rain had started.
I was grumpy incarnate.
And spent the rest of the afternoon hauling his bedding outside of the tent and wriggling it out. Thank goodness one of the other guys had plenty of rope with him. He made a clothes line for me so that everything could be hung out to dry as much as possible before night fell.
I was exhausted; and concerned.
I didn't expect the bedding to dry completely in time. I had some extra layers that could be used, but it wouldn't be enough to keep the kid warm through the upcoming night. Night fell too soon, in my opinion, and I did the best I could. I pulled blankets from the air mattress that I was sharing with the boyfriend and covered my kid as best as his squirmy self would allow. I knew that he would need the extra layers, sleeping by himself and with a cooler night setting in after the stormy day.
Pain crept up on me that night. The cool-moist air was setting into my sore muscles and joints, which were already aching from a long day on the trails. I snuggled close to my boyfriend's body. I had reserved two of the thinner blankets for our bed, knowing that we would have the benefit of body heat to see us through the night.
I woke up in the middle of the night and had to use the restroom. The boyfriend needed to grab an extra layer from his baggage and rustled around a bit with the flashlight on. The kid was sleeping poorly, moaning as he moved again to get comfortable. I got up and inspected his pallet. It was cold and slightly damp, mostly due to the fact that the sleeping bag hadn't completely dried out. I adjusted the covers to make the most of what was dry and laid down close to the child to warm him.
Let's be honest, it occurred to me that I should stay with him and see the rest of the night through keeping him warm. But I was hurting and couldn't even imagine what kind of pain I would be dealing with in the morning air, were I to spend the night on the ground. I left him after a bit and made my way back to the air mattress, beside my boyfriend's warm body.
"How is he?"
"I thought you were asleep. I was trying to be quiet," I answered sofly.
"How is he," he asked me again.
"He's awake and trying to get comfortable. He's cold, but I laid down with him for a little bit to warm him up. The sleep bag is still a little damp, which doesn't help; but I adjusted the blankets as much as possible to keep his dry."
"Do you want him to come sleep with us," he whispered the question to me, his concern for the child's condition unmasked.
I raised my head a little in order to get a better view of his face in the semi-dark and said flatly, "We will not get any sleep. Do you understand that? He'll be too excited and we'll be miserable in the morning."
Had it been light enough, he probably would have seen that dead-cold stare in my eyes that people tell me I have an uncanny way of delivering. I needed him to be sure of this decision. My heart was flip-flopping. I knew this was the right solution, but I hadn't been able to bring myself to ask him to deal with the responsibility of it with me; to play care-giver (i.e. daddy) for the night and put himself out for the good of the little human being in my charge.
"Well, at least he won't be cold."
My heart swelled. I called the kid to come to bed. I told him to bring a blanket. I was adjusting closer to my boyfriend so that I could be between them, trying to provide a buffer for him from the little boy antics we were inviting to our bed.
"He'll get warmer faster in between us."
I knew that; and I didn't have any energy left to argue my point. I had to trust that this guy wasn't offering this sacrifice without understanding that there would be consequences; or at least, I would deal with the outcome, his possible lack of understanding, in the morning. I told my little man to crawl over me to the middle of the bed; he obliged with a little too much energy for my taste. He snuggled in, reaching his arms out to touch the two adults that encased his body and sighed deeply. I soothingly encouraged him to settle down and he curled into his pillow. He was blissfully happy and getting warmer by the second.
I looked over my son's head into the darkness towards my boyfriend's face. I reached over and rested my hand on his chest, just over his heart, and offered an emotionally-rich, "Thank you."
What I really meant was, "I love you."
And, sleep came; the morning light, when it woke me up, was a little aged, and I quietly thanked the heavens that we had been able to truly sleep and get some rest. I looked over towards my boys, two of my favorite people, and saw that they still slept.
I giggled. The boyfriend had protected his face space with a pillow at some point in the night. Smart guy; I knew there were some obvious reasons for why I liked him so much.