I went camping this weekend with family members at Big Sur on the central coast of California. In all, there were four adults and five small children. We slept in two tents and packed enough supplies for what my mother refers to as “Coxey’s Army,” which is an expression she learned from her mother.
We had six folding chairs, five sleeping bags, four flotation devices for the nearby creek, three play pens, two plastic bins of food, and a spare tent for the kids to play in. In addition, we had the usual medical supplies such as a first aid kit, Calamine lotion for those susceptible to poison oak, mosquito repellent, and enough sunscreen to lather up half of Coxey’s Army.
This leads me to two observations about the experience that ought to interest most people, whether campers or not. I should state at the outset, however, that anything that gets a family outside and away from television, video games, and the Internet is a good thing. And anything that bonds a family together should be encouraged and practiced regularly, which is why these camping trips have become annual events for our family.
The first observation is that families have become overprotective. This is not exactly news, but fear-based parenting seems to have become the norm rather than the exception. Now, parents take all kinds of precautions to ensure that their kids do not step across the threshold of their (the parents’) safety zone. There are plenty of problems with this, not the least of which is that by the time I see students in university they are much less likely to take the initiative or be entrepreneurial let alone think critically.
Down at the creek some kids enjoyed a fair amount of freedom swimming on their own and exploring. Others, not so much. These were often nagged about not going too far into the water or supervised about how to play and with whom.
This reminded me of a story my mother-in-law told once about traveling from the Peninsula to San Francisco on public transportation at night and back again at the age of twelve without any problem. To insist that kids were more self-reliant or life safer back then may be oversimplifying the problem, but you certainly can make the case that children were less managed.
The second observation also has to do with fear. This time, the fear involves territory. Our camping spaces did not have direct access to the small beach and cove that served as the gathering spot for families. So we skirted the far end of an adjacent space to reach the beach. Apparently, this stressed at least one of the campers in that space, who tried to protect their territory.
If you have never been to Big Sur, just know that it is a spectacularly beautiful place. It is filled with sharp cliffs, exploding waves, aquamarine water, and wind burnished cedar trees. It is not the kind of environment conducive to pettiness. When in the midst of such beauty, how can the soul do anything but give glory to God?
Instead of glory or gratitude, however, these people backed up their camper to make it more difficult for us and others to walk down to the beach. When confronted, they shimmied and shaked at even higher levels of anxiety.
But I discovered something just as spectacular about Big Sur. These were the only campers to exhibit any kind of negative or unkind attitude, and there were quite a few people at the campsite. Everyone else treated Coxey’s Army with the crying, screaming children with friendliness and humor even if battle fatigued. And even after my daughter accidentally set off the car alarm in the middle of the night, causing yet another round of screaming.
So even if fear is the root cause of overprotection on one hand and pettiness on the other, something persists in human nature to overcome the fear. It defines us as authentically human.
Something definitely persists.