As camp as a row of tents

DSC02043It was some time ago when I decided that camping was not for me.

I was very aware that I will never climb mountains or set off to reach a pole – north or south – or any other truly remote locale and as such I figured that I was unlikely to actually be any place where a tent would be essential, certainly not anywhere beyond striking distance of an establishment that had a bed to rent. It wouldn’t have to be a fancy bed or come with any luxuries, it would just need to be a step up from sleeping on the floor beneath canvas to reassure me that my decision is a sound one.

I am not anti camping and I certainly have nothing against others doing it, in fact I guess I somewhat admire their vigour and enthusiasm for something that I now find so unappealing. I am aware that to some it gives a real sense of freedom and is a great adventure and to others it offers spontaneity or an inexpensive way to take long holidays that could otherwise be out of their reach.

I get it, I just don’t enjoy it. Hence I had avoided it for many years.

When I camped in the past I guess it’s fair to say that I found the experience less than wondrous. At the time I remember it was all laughed off with youthful exuberance, but as I have matured and as my body has aged and started to demand more of the basic home comforts – you know, like a bed, a loo and running hot water – it has left me somewhat reluctant to embrace it – even for the comedy factor.

However, I now have children and as we all know – children LOVE to camp. They love the thrill of something different, of the adventure and I guess the parent/child bonding that doing it as a family offers. Consequently I find myself in my early 50’s not only agreeing to go camping, but once a year perversely looking forward to it.

Not looking forward to the lack of comfort, lack of decent showering facilities, of the nights of poor sleep, or to the aches and pains I suffer for sleeping ‘sans’ a mattress, but looking forward to a very special long bank holiday weekend, a weekend that I have recently returned from, the weekend that is the New Family Social (NFS) LGBT family camp.

What is so special about this weekend that it gets me enthused for something I would ordinarily be refusing to do? Well pretty much everything actually.

Firstly the setting, it’s held in a very nice part of the country in lots of woodland allowing for intimate camps within a camp. It is calm, peaceful, beautiful and quite simply a great place to be.

On top of its desirable setting the camp has lots of activities for the kids – archery, wall climbing, zip wire, crate stacking, pond dipping, grass sledging and more – most of which is anything but peaceful or relaxing, which is of course exactly how the children want it. In addition NFS lay on creative and thoughtful activities throughout the day and the evening for each of the 4-5 days, so there is always something for the children – and also the parents – to take part in. Most notably there is the very entertaining ‘We’ve got talent’ show and new for this year the amazing ‘Village fete’, with its Dog show and many stalls offering various table top games, face painting, nail painting and such.

Secondly there are the volunteers – LGBT people considering adoption\fostering or already on the path to adoption\fostering – who are enthusiastic, ever helpful and well… pretty amazing. They are there for NFS who need their time, effort and energy to make the weekend go smoothly and professionally – which it does. They are there for us campers, to help us, to guide us – and wonderfully to keep a watchful eye or two on our children. Lastly they are there for themselves, to find out what NFS can offer them and to discover what we the members are all about – they get to see first hand some of what being a LBGT parent and an adoptive\foster parent means, to hear our stories of who, what, why led us to be the families that we are and to learn of our often very differing experiences.

Then there are us campers, every family brings along their own unique story, and we are all there to listen and to share and maybe most importantly to learn from each other. We are families from all over the country (in fact sometimes even further afield), from all social groups and backgrounds, parents of varying intellect/ income/ political persuasion and religion yet we all have two huge things in common – that we are LBGT and that we have children. Camaraderie is in abundance and friendships are made which go well beyond the weekend.

However, what really makes the experience so very special is what it means to the children.

Apart from the great fun that can be had and the chance to meet up with friends from previous years and to make new friends there is a wonderful freedom on offer that is unlike almost anything most of the children would have experienced – especially those growing up in cities where their every move is organised and controlled and where every minute of their day there is a need for them to be monitored. From the moment the children arrive they are off socialising and playing and certainly for our 7 and 8 year old we only see them when THEY want us and return to find us.

This freedom is something I remember SO strongly from my childhood growing up in the 60’s/70’s, I look back on it as being very special and it saddens me that childhood for my sons is so much more restricted. The many adult eyes of the parents and the volunteers which are all looking out for every child reassures us of a high degree of security – but the children are running wild in the woods so it’s certainly not 100% safe and knowing that they can escape adult eyes, be a little naughty and take a minor risk here or there I guess makes the freedom real and even more significant to them, and every child just seems to lap it up and to relish every moment.

In addition it is a weekend when they are literally surrounded by mostly adopted peers all living in LBGT families, where for a change their kind of family is in the majority. I’m pretty sure none of the children have any kind of issue with having LGBT parents however for a few days, for a change it’s quite simply the norm – not the exception.

Apart from being wonderfully reassuring and normalising I am sure that this environment helps to instil a sense of pride for who they are and what their family is, in a way which I think would be impossible to achieve elsewhere.

I am still not a camper – however I am a gay dad who willingly goes camping once a year and loves it.

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