I had my reservations when we decided to take a camping trip in the desert with our three sons. We hadn’t been camping with our children in several years, and we still had an eighteen-month-old who loved to eat dirt, rocks, bugs, and anything else he could get his chubby little hands on. But I knew it was for the ‘memories’ and the bonding time with our boys, and I consoled myself with the knowledge that Goblin Valley would be the perfect place for them to enjoy running, climbing, and wallowing in dirt. What more could a little boy want?
My hesitations turned to a whisper of fear as we checked the weather reports. Rain was expected for the first two days of our trip. But that’s fun, right? All cozy in the tent, playing card games and eating circus animal cookies?
We borrowed camping gear from my in-laws, spent half the day packing the family van, and headed off mid-afternoon with two inches of wiggle room in our wall-to-wall stuffed vehicle.
When we arrived at our site, it was perfect! The only campsite nestled into a miniature v-shaped canyon of red-rock, surrounded on both sides with walls high enough to shade and short enough to climb. The only problem was the mud hole labeled tent site #12.
After a day of rain, a novelty to this barren land, small streams worked their way down from the canyon’s walls. Borrowing a shovel from the ranger’s shed, we dug out the slop that was supposed to be our tent spot. By the time we had finished filling it in with some dry red sand, it was nearly dark. We began staking the tent and assembling the poles.
It didn’t take long for us to realize that one of the tension rods was missing. In even less time, it became apparent that without this rod, the tent was not going up.
Our six-year-old son was in tears at this point. To Mom and Dad this was a problem. But to him–this may have well been a national disaster. I cuddled him as we called a family huddle around the covered metal picnic table. We discussed our options: sleep under the stars, sleep in the car, drive two hours to the next city and find a hotel, or drive four hours to a city large enough to buy a new tent rod and spend the night at home.
Then the downpour began.
The discussion ended and a decision made as we wildly threw equipment back into the minivan. We realized we had no choice but to drive four more hours to buy another tent rod. There was no better time than now.
Arriving home at one a.m., we crashed in our beds. (I’d have to say sleeping in my bed was the one plus of our unfortunate circumstances.)
The next morning we headed into the city, purchased the $7.00 tent rod (plus the cost of gas and eight extra hours of driving), and headed back for “take two” of our family vacation.
As we all sat, surrounded by pillows, backpacks, and sleeping bags, I asked the boys, “What can we learn from this experience with the tent rod?” I received answers like “Make sure you are prepared!” and “Test the tent up before you leave!”
These thoughts then evolved into a discussion on how small that one little tent rod was when compared to the whole tent, but what an important role it played in making the tent usable. We discussed how each of us as a family member plays a part, no matter how small, and if we don’t work together, our tent won’t stand up.
Later during our trip we decided to write a family song about our experience. Please cue the music (Indiana Jones):
When we’re camp-ing, in the rain,
With no tent pole, WE WILL NOT COMPLAIN!
Stand for honor.
Dad and Mom,
WE WORK AS A TEAM!
The best part of the song was that each person played a part in composing it. Our eight-year-old even put his book down long enough to get out a pen and paper and scribe for us. It became our vacation theme song and a reminder of who we are when people started getting tired or grumpy.
The last day of the trip, we all stood in our pajamas after an early morning bathroom run and watched the sun rise over the red desert horizon. It was one of those magical moments with my boys that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss for the world.
My husband and I are grateful we stuck out the trip, but more than that, we are grateful we took this opportunity to grow from the challenges we faced and to model optimism. If everything had gone according to plan, we would have had a fun trip and made some fun memories. But when things went wrong, it became an adventure that required us to work together as a family and ended up a story that we can share for years to come. Our trip became one of the weaving moments of the fabric of our family, and hopefully we taught our children that when it rains, you sing.
QUESTION: Have you ever had a moment when things didn’t go according to plan and you were able to turn lemons into lemonade? Did you somehow document it for your family memories?
CHALLENGE: With the holidays coming up, something inevitably will not go perfectly. Watch for that moment, and when it happens, find a way to make that moment into a treasured family memory.