It was one of those moments of parental delight to put up the little tent on the lawn recently. I needed to check that it was still complete. Our boy was due back in the country and he needed a tent for a music festival in Auckland last weekend, before he and his partner were to travel southwards home. It was exciting enough to be seeing them after a two-and-a-half-year break while they have been living in Amsterdam but that little tent brought back so many memories.
When our children were young, we used to take them camping every summer, travelling around different parts of the country. While we used a one-roomed family tent, small dome tents also featured. We would often pitch the little tent on the lawn outside our bedroom window at home so the kids could play in it and bravely sleep outdoors if they wished. Our boy took it to new levels.
Reluctant to concede the family camping holiday was over one year, he pitched the tent himself on the lawn and moved out to it for a couple of weeks. The next year, he spent longer in the tent and each subsequent year, tent-time stretched further. Seven months, I think was the record. He was not allowed to pitch it until the annual garden festival was over – it was our busiest garden visitor week of the year – so it would go up the first week in November. By the time he was about 11, he was out in that tent through until the autumn rains set in – somewhere around May.
Don’t be thinking his bedroom was awful or even that he had to share it with a sibling. There was nothing wrong with his room in the house. He just liked sleeping outside. He would have his evening drink of Milo (a malted chocolate drink that is a family ritual here), bedtime stories on the sofa, brush his teeth and head out the door with his torch. In the morning, I would open the back door and call to him that it was time to get up for school.
Every four days or so, he was expected to move the tent so the grass beneath it did not die. I would wash his sleeping bag every few weeks and make sure that there was a supply of batteries for his torch. It was his summer dwelling.
From time to time we had to buy a new little dome tent. They are not designed for constant use and will degrade over time in the sun. But for a cheap product, they seemed to last remarkably well and brought him great delight. And despite being stored in the back shed for the intervening years, the last one was still water tight and complete for the festival last weekend.
Our children are adults now and all three of them live overseas so it becomes even more special when one of them comes home for a visit and a lifetime of memories flood back.
On the bright side, given that Theo and his partner departed from a Northern European winter under two weeks ago, our miserable summer perked up no end for them this week. They have spent much time in the pool and even I took my first swim of the summer on February 20 (we usually start swimming in December). Summer may be very late this year and will be extremely short as a result. The entire garlic crop succumbed to rust and the rock melon and water melon crops have failed to mature in the cooler, wet weather. But a week of warm, sunny, swimming weather gives a lift to the spirits.