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28. Into the Woods: Our First Camping Experience

Growing up, there were certain things that just didn’t jive with me. Like sports, dirt, bugs and anything medical. I somehow had it ingrained into my head that I was in no way a girl who would enjoy the outdoors, because of said sports, bugs, dirt and could be injuries. Outdoor activities were never really on my radar, or “to do” list. So, when I was invited by some friends of mine to go camping, I didn’t know how to react or respond.

Traditionally, I would have balked at the idea and made some kind of comment about being an indoor girl. But something was different about this invitation: my curiosity.

I had finally gotten to a place in my life where I realized being open-minded and taking risks led to some pretty powerful experiences, so I did a double take about this invitation and gave it some thought. Still using the joke that I was an indoor girl, I accepted and actually got excited about doing something so completely out of character. I told the kids what we were going to do, and they seemed excited about it, too.

I remember telling my mom, and her saying, “The kids probably wouldn’t like it. You didn’t like it when you were little, so I am surprised you are even thinking about it.” And that is when it dawned on me; she wasn’t using reverse psychology, but that’s exactly the a-ha type of moment I had. My response was so automatic, that I didn’t even have time to process what I was about to say: “We have never been camping. I can’t pretend to know what my kids like and dislike, and just because I don’t like something, doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t let them experience different kinds of adventures so they can find out what they do like. We will never know if we never try.” And that was that.

From that moment on, I decided this adventure thing was a team decision: we would all be open enough to try new experiences and support each other in them, whether we typically enjoyed them or not.

So, off I went to do research on how to camp. I didn’t have even the first clue about it. I camped once when I was a girl scout and hated it (though in fairness, I could attribute that to another trip where I felt left out and without friends, so maybe it wasn’t the bugs after all). Thankfully my friend and her family (most of whom I already knew pretty well) knew exactly what to do, and had the basics all figured out. I was able to borrow a tent and many of the supplies I would need, especially since I had no idea if I would ever do this again, and I wasn’t about to invest money into all of this just for one weekend. All packed and ready to go, the kids and I headed out to the Hamptons for our second official adventure together as a family—not having the slightest clue what to expect.

Which turned out to be absolutely perfect. It was not what I thought it would be. Such a Virgo, I worried about bathrooms, showers and sanitation, to find that it was all a modern-day setup that addressed all my hygiene concerns. That in itself, was a game changer. I could relax now knowing I didn’t have to suffer with truly “roughing it.” I was then able to enjoy the experience a little bit more, seeing that it was a campground, with amenities, and that my friends had an awesome camp and were so helpful in getting me all set up. It was only a few of us together, so I felt like a part of this close-knit family. I was the only “outsider,” but I still felt at home with them.

Even when I was nervous about my young son running off, or about the potential tick bites, or what to do, everyone was so kind and helpful towards the single mom out of her element. The kids played nicely together, us women were able to have some nice chats while the men went off and did their thing. The day was spent settling in and just getting to know the area, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous.

Once the sun set, that is when the sweetest of memories were actually made.

We sat around a campfire, making and eating s’mores, laughing, joking and just having an absolutely amazing time. My kids were loving every moment of it—and truth be told, so was I. Here I was, in a place that I never in a million dreams ever thought I would be in, and I realized that I actually loved camping. I loved communing with and being in nature. I loved the connections that are created around a campfire. I loved the idea of disconnecting from electricity and computers. It touched my heart in a lot of ways. But mostly, because my children got to experience something completely new, and enjoyed it as well.

The only part they hated was having to go to bed. Bedtime was rough that first night. Our bed kept deflating; there was a hole in it. So I was doing everything I could to keep them comfortable instead of sleeping on the ground, especially my little one. Eventually, I got them to settle down, and I found myself without a bed. Quiet and asleep, I snuck back out to see if the campfire was still lit, and it was.

Luckily, there was also a lounge chair waiting there for me to get some rest in—but, as I soon found out, I was not going to be resting quite yet.

Only moments after settling into that lounge chair, one of the guys there I had recently met had come out from his tent and joined me by the fire. It had to be about 1 in the morning; I had thought everyone was asleep. I will never forget that night, ever. The two of us talked for probably hours by that fire. We immediately hit it off; it was as if I knew him forever. And he was so incredibly kind, compassionate and affectionate.

There was a point when I was starting to get cold, and he had moved in closer and held me a bit to warm me up. It was such a sincerely awesome moment, because for a while, we just stayed there, silent by this breathtaking fire, in a slight snuggle. There were no sexual passes made—which you would think would be frustrating, but it wasn’t. In fact, it was just the opposite. Here was this man I really connected with, simply holding me, showing affection by merely caring enough to want to keep me warm, and that made this moment such a beautiful one for me.

For so long, I had wished for affectionate love. I crave that love more than any other type. More than the fun flirtations, the passionate sex or even the tense attractions. And while I was in California with my friend, I had realized my need for affection, and less than a year later, here I was being reminded of what I truly wanted to feel. It was actually a quite romantic-like moment by the fireplace, with nothing but a gentle kiss on the forehead goodnight before I fell asleep—and it was so much more profound and meaningful than I could have ever dreamed up.

This connection was exactly what I had needed that night.

With a sore, recently rejected heart (unbeknownst to anyone there at that campsite), it’s as if he somehow intuitively knew I needed some gentleness in my life at that very moment. And although I have had moments of deep affection in my life since that trip, none have ever matched the compassionate innocence of that fireplace interlude.

Between feeling safe and genuinely cared about by someone I barely knew, and feeling empowered and surprised by how much I enjoyed a trip outside of my adventure box, this camping weekend remains one of the highlights of my travels. I never expected to have such an amazing time, and it just proved to me how wonderful life can be when you just let your guard down—in any way. For me, I had let go of my close-mindedness about the outdoors, and my neediness for false male attention. And what I received in return for it was a true testament to the concept of surrender.

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Jean Puhlman
Jean Puhlman
Sep 24, 2021

😘Ah so sweet. I love your sense of adventure and curiosity. Love your blog and you.

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Thank you! Sending love right back at ya, JM!


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