Yesterday, the kids and I took part in a grand experiment. It all began with four little words, "I wish we could..." and a two page spread from a recent read called Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do.)
The munchkins had spent the better part of the afternoon outside in the backyard. Following their lead, I decided a picnic supper was in order for the evening. They joined me at the picnic table. As we nibbled our cheese and crackers, the kids filled me in on their various pursuits. They had used some old treelimbs and rope to construct a boat. They had created a construction zone beneath the trampoline; complete with gravel piles, dump trucks and partially created pyramids. The boys had worked out a game involving a baseball bat, a 14 inch ball and exactly three rules. Layne had drug her chairs all over the yard setting up picnic areas for her entourage. Logan and James had decided to rub every visible inch of their bodies with dirt to protect themselves from mosquitos in true Survivorman fashion. Ladies, I mean EVERY INCH.
Anyway, as we talked one of my guys piped up with "I wish we could sleep outside." Normally this comment would have slipped right past me, a child's fantasy shared in the moment. As a new owner of Gever Tulley's book, my child's longing pulled me to a full stop. I had just read Number #49 -Sleep in the Wild, a couple of nights before. This was a dangerous thing that I had not expected to encounter so quickly. One of the few in the book that I truely had reservations about. Maybe it was the challenge to myself or the fact that my kiddos really wanted to give it a try. Maybe it was the idea of those dirty boys on their clean sheets. Maybe it was what Gever said, "The familiar area around our home becomes a whole new world after dark, and we see and hear things in a whole new way." I don't know why but I chose to say "Why couldn't you?"
All four of the kids pounced upon the idea. They began formulating how it would work, where they would sleep, what type of blankets they would need, etc. They decided that mom and dad would sleep inside. The kids would use the trampoline for their bed. Mom could stay until it was dark; we could do the nightly routine of reading our chapter book, prayers and kisses. After that, I was supposed to return to the house. They also wanted to sleep in their day clothes, fewer bug bites. Makes total sense right?
Anyway, that is exactly how we did it. They grabbed comforters, climbed onto the trampoline and we used eachothers stomachs for pillows while I read a few chapters of "My Friend Flicka." When it grew dark, we picked out the Big Dipper and talked about how many more stars we could see this way. Then I said prayers and gave kisses. I assured each of them that they could come in whenever they chose but insisted that if my oldest wanted to come in that the youngest come in also. I climbed off the trampoline, crossed the yard, climbed up the stairs to the porch, walked through and closed the kitchen door behind me.
Of course, my heart leaped within my chest the second I closed that door. I walked straight through the house to the front door and hit the front porch in a manner of seconds. I took the long way back around the house so that I could keep an eye on my little ones. I ducked into our homemade fort and found a seat in the wet grass. Close enough to my babies but just out of sight so that they could have the feeling of independence. I was determined to sit there throughout the night if I had to, allowing my kids to have their adventure but asauging my fears about safety.
What I witnessed was endearing. Left to their own devices the four of them quickly created a system of protection. The oldest two boys encouraged the younger kids to go to sleep, assuring them that they would be the look outs for all four sides of the trampoline. They decided sharing their four comforters and coming together in a pile of sorts made much more sense than each of them laying by themselves. My oldest son began telling my little girl a princess story in order to calm her nerves. Every movement and sound was identified and communicated, so that no one would have a chance to get the willies. The two lookouts did their job beautifully. Every couple of seconds, a little head would bob up from the mound of blankets and take a 180 degree look around the yard. Then the other head would come up and begin a scan in the opposite direction. With all this surveillance going on, it wasn't long before one of them spotted me.
I knew as soon as it happend. I quickly pulled back into the shadows but it was too late. A hurried whisper and flurry of motion followed. Each kid was on the alert. All four heads were up and looking my direction. Carter decided to start making some noises, hoping to frighten away the "dog" that had laid down in the fort. Carter and James tried desperately to calm Logan and Layne but it was too late. Logan decided that this was not his cup of tea after all and succumbed to the idea of his secure bed. As soon as he walked in I made a beeline for the front door. I didn't want him to suspect that I had been cheating during this adventure. I put him to bed quickly and then ran back to my lookout. Unfortunately, the little guards were on high alert. As soon as they saw my head bob above the wall of the fort, a yelp went out, "MOM!" There was panic in his voice. He didn't know it was me! I hurried out of hiding and was greeted with a torent of "You SCARED ME!" I assured them that I wasn't trying to scare them, I was just checking on them. I was making sure that they were okay. They quickly tumbled through all of their ideas of what my presence might have been. A big dog, a guy, the lady next door, someone coming into the yard; all negative, scary things. I gathered them in a hug and apologized profusely.
Two of them decided to come in right then. Carter decided to try and brave it alone. I walked James and Layne in and Carter followed within minutes. Apparently, bravery is better found in the multitude. They were all chattering quite a bit and decided that it truly had been an adventure. They even woke up with smiles and squirming to fill daddy in on the night before's experiment.
I on the otherhand felt a little shame faced. What would have happend if I had let my children be? Would the boogy man, that I was so afraid of, really have nabbed them? Would anybody have come into the yard and disturbed them? Would a storm have rolled in and frightened the kids with booming thunder as they slept? or would they have had a perfectly peaceful, adventurous, wonderful evening lying together beneath the stars? I don't know. I hope it would have been the latter and I feel kind of sad that I ruined their chance to find out. Thankfully, kids bounce back. They are all very willing to try the experiment again. I've managed put it off for a month. Maybe next time, I'll just hide in the garage....