Emily Parnell: We’re not Lewis and Clark, but then they didn’t have air mattresses and Google maps

06/17/2014 1:46 PM

06/17/2014 5:21 PM

Occasionally, I will accidentally give someone the impression that we’re an outdoorsy family. Usually this mistake occurs when I’ve named off some of our family’s recreational activities. For instance, we like to camp, raft, hike and snow ski. We think sleeping in tents is fun, none of us would hesitate to catch a toad or frog with our bare hands, we don’t scream when we see snakes, and we try to protect bees.

That all sounds outdoorsy, right? And maybe my husband is. Perhaps my kids will be. But for me, it’s all in the preparation. Outdoorsy people are tough. Me? Not so much.

Take, for instance, a glorious day this winter when the sun came out and the temperatures warmed up to jacket weather. My husband suggested we go for a family hike. It sounded fun, so we all geared up. Proper shoes and socks, hats, backpacks with bottles of waters, we were ready. Almost.

My daughter had on rather thin leggings, so I suggested she put on pants over them — for protection from sticks and for additional warmth. She came out wearing hot pink satin pants that Olivia Newton John would have swooned over for her Sandy role. They looked OK to me. As we rolled out of the driveway, I instructed my husband to make a stop at Foo’s. I needed a latte. A huge one that I could take on the trails.

We headed to Shawnee Mission Park, and I pulled up a map of the trails with a GPS locator on my phone. In case we got lost. It could save us dozens of minutes if we took a wrong turn. Now, we were really ready.

I’ve read a slew of articles recently touting the benefits of the wild for our kids. Their behavior, learning and health can all benefit from a strong dose of fresh air. It’s interesting that kids (and adults) are so cloistered indoors, when being outdoorsy is easier than ever. The great outdoors is closer than the nearest convenience store, and we can bring our favorite conveniences with us.

For instance, I’m packing for a weekend camping trip. At the very top of my list are remedies for some of my most dreaded outdoor plagues. Bug spray, check. Bug lanterns, check. Bug repelling wristbands, check. Benadryl and hydrocortisone in case the preventatives fail — check.

These are all relatively new innovations in itch-relief. Itching is (have you guessed?) one of my least favorite things, ever. (I would bet money that prior to these modern-day cures for the common itch, there were suicides related to itching.)

Louis and Clark didn’t have to debate whether or not to go DEET-free. Nor did they have an outlet in their car so they could use an electric pump to blow up their air mattress. Their campgrounds had no ice machines, their tents, no zippers. Their phones had no Google Maps. They didn’t own high-tech, quick-dry jackets that could be folded small enough to fit in the pocket of their pants — with zip-off legs that could convert their pants to shorts. And bless their souls, they couldn’t stop at Foo’s for a steaming cup of lifeblood with skim milk.

I’m not saying we need to explore like we’re Lewis and Clark. But I look at my own kids, drawn to a rousing game of Mario Cart when there’s a sky full of lightning bugs and bats and a $7 campground just a short drive away, and I know this is a worthwhile — and not even particularly challenging — battle.

All it takes is a pair of satin pants, a cup of joe and a bottle of bug spray.

Overland Park mom and 913 freelancer Emily Parnell writes for Diversions each week.

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