The Great Outdoors

I’m not the outdoorsy type. I have never in my life been camping. (I have been “to camp,” but it was an arts camp and we had showers and indoor toilets. Bare minimum requirements, please and thank you.) I say this only because I have some friends who do go camping, and they always try to sell me on how great it is, and how I simply must try it. They go on and on about something called “The Great Outdoors,” and how you get to be outside, you know, in nature and stuff (like this is a selling point for me). They go almost glassy-eyed describing the scenery, their tent, and the hikes, good Lord, the hikes. (Have they met me?) I was almost afraid they had joined a cult during the trip and were now recruiting others to wander about, communing with the chipmunks, deer and meerkats (or whatever it is that lives in the woods. My knowledge of woodland creatures is limited to Disney movies). I just nodded a lot, and said “uh hmm” at moments I deemed absolutely necessary. It was a vivid picture – they pitched a tent, they slept in bags, they ate beans in a can, and it was glorious, apparently.

They also had to go to the bathroom outside, but they curiously left that part out of the description. They probably knew it wouldn’t be a big selling point for me. Bears may shit in the woods, but quite frankly, Jews don’t.

My whole aversion to this activity may stem from the fact that I do not come from a camping family. We’re not outdoorsy. At all. Years ago I asked my mother why we didn’t go on family camping tips, much like Mike and Carol Brady did with their family.

“First of all,” Mom said, “You have to sleep on the ground. ON THE GROUND. With the bugs.”

I could tell Mom had thought about this a lot. I’m guessing she saw the camping episode of The Brady Bunch, too, and figured she better have a response ready.

”Also, you can’t make a reservation for dinner in the woods. You have to build a fire and open a can. What if you forgot the can opener? What then? You know, if you try to make a dinner reservation in the woods, you know who shows up? Bears. BEARS. Do you want to try to split your Chicken Almond Ding with a bear? They’ll take it all, plus your egg roll. You can’t reason with a bear.”

I’m also guessing bears don’t respond well to guilt, so my Mom asking the bear if this is really what he wants to do with his life, and when the last time he called his mother was, would have little to no effect. Although, you never know. Maybe the bear hasn’t called his mother in a while, because she’s just so disappointed he didn’t go into the family business and instead decided to follow Jimmy Buffet around the country – in which case my mother would have had the bear weeping against a tree stump. She was that good.

This bear just got off the phone with his mother.

I asked my Dad if he had ever been camping.

“No,” he said. “But I did have to sleep on the porch a few times during the summer when I was a kid. We didn’t have air conditioning.”

“Would you ever want to go camping with us?”

“With you, your brother and your mother? No. I mean, just…no. I’m not sure the woods could handle the level of…what’s the word? Kvetching.”

My gentile father resorted to Yiddish. I knew he was serious.

“Do you want to go camping?” he asked.

“No, not really. It just seems like…something families do.”

“Look, some families camp, some go fishing, some sing barbershop. It’s not for us.”

In all honesty, I never brought it up again. I roasted a few marshmallows over the stove burner, and watched Little House on the Prairie. That was about my level of rustic.

These people will all kill each other by morning. The guy with the guitar will get it first.

My friend Sophie likes to go rock climbing. This I really don’t understand. There’s a rock, go climb it. Big whoop. Is the weather bad? No problem! Here’s an indoor fake rock you can climb! I once asked her why she liked it, since she’s generally a person who appreciates creature comforts.

“It’s a challenge,” she said.

“Menopause is a challenge,” I replied. “You don’t see me being too anxious to tackle that.”

“You do it because it’s there. It gives you a sense of accomplishment.”

“So does eating an entire cheesecake,” I said. “And nobody has to harness you to a wall to do it.”

Sophie was not deterred.

“You get to go shopping. You have to buy special shoes.”

“Nobody told me there was shopping involved. That changes everything,” I said. “What are we talking about here? Something in a suede t-strap, perhaps?”

She told me that they tightly strap you into the harness, which then gets hooked to the rope. A guy stands at the bottom, holding the other end of the rope while you scale the rock wall. Then she leans in, as if to tell me a great secret.

“You really want to have someone you know very well hold the rope.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, the harness loops around your thighs, and let’s just say…it does not do nice things to your ass.”

“Oh, good Lord.”

“And,” she continued, “You really don’t want a total stranger seeing that.”

“So this guy holding the rope…” I said.

“The belayer.” she corrected.

“Yeah, the belayer. Is that his whole job? Holding the rope while people climb plastic walls?”

“Yes,” she said.

“His mother must be so proud.”

NOPE.

So I’m not going to be trying rock climbing in the near future. I know people do these things for an adrenaline rush. That’s fine; it’s just not for me. Take bungee jumping, for example. People say they bungee jump for the rush of excitement and adrenaline, but personally, I think it’s just an excuse to urinate on yourself in the name of sport. There’s also hunting. Some people hunt to feed their families, and that’s one thing, but others do it for the “thrill” of the hunt. Let me see – a guy goes out into the woods, armed to the teeth. As far as I’m concerned, unless when he approaches the deer it’s sitting in an overstuffed chair, stroking a white cat and saying, “I’ve been expecting you, Mr. Bond,” it’s not really a fair fight, is it?

There are things I would like to try someday that involve going outside. I would like to run a 5K. (This will be a challenge, as it, you know, involves running, but it’s on my list.) I would like to go bike riding again. (I don’t currently own a bike, but I’ll work around it.) And I would perhaps like to – gasp! – hike around the highlands of Scotland. But I guarantee you that at the end of doing any of those activities, I will return to a clean, quiet room with nice sheets, a private bathroom, and an ample supply of Cheerios. Believe me, everyone in the near vicinity will be better off. There will be no tents, guilt-ridden bears or cans of beans anywhere.

And if I want a boost of adrenaline, I’ll hit the 70% off sale at Filene’s Basement. Now that’s survival of the fittest.

 

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Maybe, Baby

The first time I held my niece Sarah, she pooped on me. I would have thought that it was kind of cute but her brother Henry did the same thing to me when he was an infant so I can’t help feeling that they’ve been coached.

Obviously, I don’t have kids. Don’t get me wrong – I think having children can be a wonderful thing. It’s just never held any interest for me. When I was a little girl, my friends would talk about how many kids they’d have someday, and what they’d name them, and I’d think, “We’re in the second grade. I can’t deal with that. Let me learn long division first and then we’ll discuss.” I dreamed about having good friends, a nice house, or maybe talking to Johnny Carson, but the idea of kids just wasn’t on the agenda.

Consequently, I’m not all that comfortable around babies. I think they’re adorable, but they make me a little nervous. They stare at you with those little eyes, like they know you haven’t called your mother recently, and frankly, they’re a tad disappointed in you. And they’re always a little sticky. Fresh out of the bath, smelling like powder, and…a little sticky. At some point I get the inevitable question: “Do you want to hold her?” If I’m not related, I usually decline. But with my niece and nephew, I had to give it a go. And it’s unbelievably awkward, which is weird because I know how to hold things, generally. But one little nine-pound baby, and I feel like I have two right hands and I just know that I’m doing it wrong. I’m positive that if I shift my weight one tiny bit to the right the baby will go springing out of my hands, making me feel like a nervous student on Day Two of a “How to Juggle Chainsaws” home-study course. So when I first held Henry I was as stiff as a board, and he gave me a look that said, “You have got to be kidding me.”

I know, I know. It’s just a baby. I need to get over myself and get comfortable with it. Or maybe people need to stop handing me their children. I don’t really like to pick up my cat, either.

Look, babies are adorable. I unabashedly love baby feet. I like picking out baby clothes. But I do not enjoy discussing the actual babies at length, much less the birthing stories. And it’s a tough situation, because most new mothers do. Not really having much to contribute to the inevitable conversation, I’m forced to continually stifle my inner monologue:

“And then the pains started shooting through my whole body…”

Please stop.

“Then they had to CUT (insert very personal body part here)…”

I don’t want to.

“There was blood and goo everywhere…”

For the love of Mike.

“I was afraid I was going to poop!”

We’ve just met.

“Breast pump…”

No.

“The first time I used a rectal thermometer…”

I’m begging you.

“He spit up all over me. And I couldn’t figure out why it was green…”

Is he an alien? Just a theory.

“You want to hold him?”

Sigh.

And these exchanges always, always happen with women I don’t know very well. Why? Are they trying to get me to see what I’m missing? If so, rock on and message received. My actual friends don’t do this. My childless status is probably a bit of a relief to them, and I like to think that they know that they can call me at any time and I will never start the conversation with the words, “Can I call you back? I just got peed on.” A big problem here is that due to my lack of comfort around the wee ones, I tend to talk to them as if they were tiny adults. The first time I met my friend Isabelle’s baby, I actually tried to shake hands.

“Um, how do you do?” I said, stiffly. “Um, he appears to be leaking.”

“Oh, sorry about that. He’s teething. Here,” she said, handing me the baby. “Let me go get a bib.”

So there I stood, holding little Aaron in front of me like a bag of flour. Face to face, I felt the need to fill the awkward silence.

“So, how do you like the Sox this year?”

It doesn’t help when parents dress their children like tiny adults. Isabelle had a baby-sized corduroy jacket hanging in Aaron’s closet, and honest to God it actually had elbow patches on it. Give him a little briefcase and he’d be my Uncle Saul.

“It’s adorable,” I told her. “But where’s he going to wear it? Court?”

It doesn’t get easier when they get a little older. My nephew Henry is at the stage where he’s very opinionated and bossy, which I guess comes with the territory, but it’s a little off-putting taking orders from a four-year-old. The first time I went to David’s house to see Sarah after they brought her home from the hospital, Henry was very protective, like a bouncer at an exclusive club.

“You can’t touch the baby,” he insisted. “Only I can touch the baby.”

“Well,” I replied, sweetly, “Your daddy says I can touch her. It’s OK.”

“But I say just me.”

We seemed to be at an impasse.

“Maybe later, then,” I offered.

“NO.”

I jokingly threw up my hands. “OK, then!”

“Don’t worry,” David said. “Just wait until he’s busy with his toy parking garage. You can play with Sarah then.”

“As long as you’re sure it’s OK,” I replied. “I don’t want to get put on report or anything.” I paused for a moment. “Wait – Henry has a toy parking garage?”

“Yeah,” he said, “It makes five car horn sounds and has two different sirens. We haven’t slept in weeks.” He hung his head. “My mother-in-law bought it. I think she secretly hates me.”

One thing I have learned, by watching the parents around me, is that the parenting never stops. Even at my age, my Mom worries when I’m alone, and is convinced I’m not dressing warmly enough in winter. My Dad still checks on my car, and offers the odd bit of life advice. When David was four, for example, he wanted to be a fire truck. Not a fireman – an actual fire truck. Now, every so often, Dad will call him and ask how his former career plans are progressing.

“So, are you a fire truck yet?”

“No, Dad, not yet.”

“That’s all right, son. It’s all about setting goals.”

I have a feeling I’ll never be a “natural” with babies. And I’m totally fine with this. Rather than feeling like I’m missing something, I prefer to look at the childless life as its own kind of adventure, filled with sleeping seven or eight hours in a row, clothes free of spit-up, and the option of white furniture. It also gives me the chance to be the beloved aunt, the bearer of finger paint and fruit roll-ups. When Henry and Sarah get older, I will show up wearing sequined sneakers and a matching hat, and whisk them away to the zoo, where I will make up stuff about the animals. Then, when they’re tired and cranky, I will hand them back to their parents.

And then I’ll go home and most likely spill something on my white furniture, but I won’t tell them about that.