Out of the plan and into the fire

I'm a planner. I'm Type-A. I generally define success by things going according to plan. Unfortunately, that's not how the world works. Things don't go as planned, the unexpected happens, and you have to adjust on the fly. This is especially true, I have found, when you have kids and/or when you spend a lot of time outdoors.

Point in case: my last week.

It started with turkey season. I made a plan, like I do every April, to go out into the woods and harvest a turkey. But as often happens, things didn't go as planned. First off there were fewer turkeys in the woods than I expected. Far fewer. I don’t know what exactly to attribute that to, but the trend is concerning. And the few turkeys that were out there were not interested in coming to my calls or even stepping foot onto the property upon which I hunted.

I had planned to feast on smoked wild turkey by the end of the week. So much for that, at least for now. There’s another season coming up.

On the surface, the fact that I didn't harvest a turkey feels a bit like a failure. But in retrospect, it was a glowing success. I got to watch some great sunrises. I got to spend some quiet reflective time out in nature which is good for the soul and something I need often to maintain my mental and emotional health. To add to the splendor, on various mornings I was treated to sights and sounds that would have otherwise been missed had I stayed in bed. One morning I watched a pair of raccoon siblings argue and wrestle with each other. I don’t know what the feud was about, but as the oldest of five siblings myself, I felt I could relate to them pretty well.

Another morning I was serenaded by the now seemingly rare call of a whippoorwill. I don't remember the last time I heard a whippoorwill. There doesn’t seem to be as many of those around as there used to be either. So hearing one that morning was quite the treat. I saw deer, ducks, geese, and I got some much needed exercise and put some break-in miles on my new boots. So yes, I’d chalk that up as a success.

The week ended with a camping trip with the family. Our first in the camper we recently bought. And again, I should know by now not to expect life to be like a happy family scene in a movie because that's not how it goes. What really happens when you take the family fishing is that the dog and the two-year-old get wrapped up in fishing line, the five-year-old gets mad when you tell her not to tie the night crawlers in knots, and you worry that the endless bickering and whining is ruining the experience of every other fisherman on the lake. So you return fishless to camp and try to find other ways to occupy the children until you can get some much needed sleep at night.
The happy family and the new camper. We have big plans for it this summer.

But then that doesn't go as planned either. What actually happens is that the two-year-old wakes up every two hours because you've been outside all day and either the seasonal crud or allergies or something has inflamed everyone’s sinuses and the boy’s all stuffed up and having a hard time sleeping in an unfamiliar location.

And as you return home on Sunday stuffy nosed and sleepy eyed, you question why you try doing things like this. But before you even have the camper unhooked from the car, your little girl is asking when you get to go camping again and excitedly telling you how she's going to tell all of her friends at school about the weekend she just had.

That’s when you realize that the weekend really was a success, despite it not going at all according to your plan. The kids played, they ran, they explored, they made new friends and spent time with old friends, they got to have experiences that many kids their age never get to have.

As I reflect on these not-as-planned experiences, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is what it means to be a parent: To give kids experiences to help them learn about the world around them. To help them navigate life and whatever it throws at them. To expose them to challenges, to successes, to failures, so they develop the resilience they need to thrive in an ever-changing and unpredictable world.

I have no idea if I’m getting it right but I’m doing the best I can. In fact, I’m already writing out the itinerary for our next camping trip. That way, at least I’ll have some paper with which to start the campfire.