Thursday, April 2, 2020

Campouts! (Sort of...)

"Secret" campouts!

Until very recently, they were a thing, and my son loved having them.   The only reason they’ve stopped is because he’s outgrown his interest in them.  What are these, you might ask?  They’re totally easy and fun dad and lad events, and for us, they were my son’s creation.

All this began when he was toddler.  He was sick and I ended up sleeping in his room next to his crib on the floor whenever he was sick enough to warrant an extra set of eyes or ears nearby.  Honestly, I have to admit more often, I was a nervous dad and wanted to be close to him as he slept, in case he needed something.  I’d have felt horrible if he was in some sort of real distress and I didn’t know it.  But the original idea was his—a fun way for him to have company while I got to monitor him.  As time passed (and I settled down as a new parent), the need to be right with him when he was sick diminished.  But across those early years, he became aware that there were times when he was sick that he’d wake up and find me sleeping in his room nearby.  That’s when the fun began.  He started asking for me to come sleep in his room just because he wanted the company—not because he was sick.  A quick tangent here:  other than by very rare exception (less than you can count on one hand), he has never been allowed to sleep in our bed with us.  We’ve always wanted him to know he has his own bed, and to feel comfortable in it.  So this wasn’t replacing anything like that.

This little arrangement turned into a game we began playing.  He’d tell me to tell Steph that I had “computer work to do”, then I’d bring my pillow and sleeping bag into his room and we’d hang out while he fell asleep.  Funny thing was, we went for several years where I’m pretty sure he really thought Steph had no idea that we were having a “secret campout”.  We enjoyed letting him think this way.  It made the whole thing more exciting: more dramatic.  More years passed, and he figured out there was really nothing secret about the whole thing, but we continued to play the game.

Here’s what it’s become, and what we do.  It would be bedtime and we’d tuck him in.  Most recently, then he would text me and asked for a secret campout (or an SCO).  When it’s bedtime for me, I’ll head back to his room and gently wake him up to let him know I’m there.  Sometimes he’ll want to talk about any number of things, but talk or not, he’d always end up sound asleep again within a very short amount of time.  These little SCOs became a wonderful way to continue fostering that special bond between the two of us:  moments of trust, comfort and fun.

Maybe more significant in the long run are the “regular campouts” we have.  These aren’t actual outdoor campouts either though.  (Some day I hope we get to share those too.  He’s a bit reluctant to be that close to nature, although I see his curiosity and sense of adventure starting to overshadow his uncertainty.)  Instead, we gather up a couple sleeping bags and pillows, make some popcorn, grab some sodas, and head back to the playroom for some solid dad-n-lad time.  We play video games and usually end up watching something of mutual interest on Netflix or Amazon.  We tell jokes and make all the sounds and grunts that boys make when we know we’re not going to get “that look” from mom.  And these also became the times when he felt he can talk to me about anything because he knows the time is protected.

When we do this, the playroom becomes the best fort ever, or a spaceship, or a secret base—any place he wants it to be where we’re alone together.  Now he’s moved through the pre-teen years, and as an early teenager, the secret campouts have all but ended.  He’s older and busier, and has interests that hold his attention in the evening other than time with me.  But he still talks about our SCOs, and for the most part, we’ve replaced them with occasional dad and lad outings for lunch or dinner.  As he continues to grow and mature, my hope is our dedicated times together continue through other activities.  What I’ll always work to protect is what really has been behind our SCOs for so many years:  dedicated time for the two of us deepen our relationship as father and son.  Both Stephanie and I have done our best to let him know he’s always allowed to talk to us about anything, individually or together, and that those conversations are safe.  For these years so far, and for the years to come, we’ll do what we can to reinforce and encourage that kind of open communication for those times when it’s needed.

It’s great to be a dad!

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