Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Camping With Mom

Since before I can remember, my mom’s family has been going camping every Memorial Weekend at a place called Heartbar Campground in the San Bernardino Mountains. In talking with my Uncle, we established that this tradition began the year I was born (1981). It’s fun to look back and see how these camping trips have evolved over the years. My earliest memories are walking across fallen trees with my cousins, our arms outstretched to our sides to balance ourselves while listening to my cousins speak of the legends of children gone before us who had fallen into the camp’s pit toilets. As we grew into teenagers, we spent most of our time going on hikes to the meadow and having big competitions with cards and board games. As a young newlywed, I still enjoyed a good game with my cousins but I also enjoyed the quiet moments of laying out on our camp chairs, snuggling with a good book. Nowadays, I watch my kids play and make their own memories with their cousins. I try to get a chapter read or a hand of cards played in between my chasing of my 2 year old or wiping down dirty hands and faces. And making sure that everything is going smoothly with mom.

Last year, we thought it would be our last year camping due to mom’s condition. Earlier this year, when my Uncle made his reservations, I decided to book a couple camp sites for my immediate family and in hopes that my siblings and parents would be able to join us. We talked about camping with mom, and as it turned out, she was actually looking forward to going. She even talked to my dad about bringing up her bike so she could be “active” and get some exercise.

That was a couple of weeks ago. Things change on a daily basis with mom. Thursday night, mom was complaining about feeling “so severe” and by Friday morning she told my dad she didn’t want to go. A lot of preparation goes into a trip like this (and in prepping mom and dad’s trailer), so dad wasn’t going to give in that easily. We all figured she could feel severe at home or she could feel severe in the trailer. At least if she was up in the mountains, she would have some distractions and maybe even feel better.

I didn’t make it up the mountain until Friday night; my dad and my brother’s family joined my Uncle earlier in the day. According to them, mom was a mess when she first arrived. She was complaining and throwing fits and was quite unhappy to be there. As I drove into camp, I saw my two Aunts walking beside my mom and holding her arms while mom hunched over, taking baby steps to the trailer. Oh great, I thought. This is gonna be a long weekend!

Mom went to bed early Friday night and when she woke up Saturday morning, she seemed to be in better spirits. Granted, I didn’t sleep in the trailer and I don’t know all that ensued the night before or even that morning. But by the time I saw mom, she was drinking her Slim Fast and seemed to be over her temper tantrums. She stayed in the trailer all morning and then eventually, in the early afternoon, she peeked her head out the door to see what was going on in the outside world. Several of us were sitting in a circle, chatting with one another while the kids played nearby. We called to mom and she apparently decided it was safe (and warm) enough to come outside and join the crowd. She sat in the sunniest place the camp had to offer, wearing a thick, fleece sweater (it gets pretty hot in the sun…but mom likes the heat nowadays!) She stayed with us for a little while and took a short walk with my Aunt (maybe 100 yards) before returning to her trailer to lay on her bed and take a rest.

And this is how the weekend went. Mom came out for short periods of time, and then went back inside to rest on her bed. She took short walks here and there, never more than a couple hundred yards at most. Dad reminded her about the bike that she had begged him to bring up. At first, she looked blankly at the bike and backed away from it. After a while, she seemed to remember that she wanted to ride her bike and she asked dad to help her remember how to ride it.

We all watched, nervously, as mom teetered on the bike. Last year, she rode around the campground with my nephew. It didn’t seem to us that she still had the ability to ride a bike. We all started to protest that it was a bad idea to let her ride. But…then she figured it out! We were still very nervous about her riding the bike, so I hopped on dad’s bike and decided I’d follow her to make sure she was safe. We rode a couple hundred yards (at most) and then mom turned around and said,

“Please let’s go back to the trailer now.”

The next day (Sunday) mom made an appearance again outside her trailer. She went back in to lay down and rest but surprised us all when she came back out to sit and snack on Poppycock (popcorn)…during her nap time!!!

Camping with kids (and mom) can be very fun but very tiring. It’s hard to find a peaceful moment. On Sunday afternoon, the guys finally took the kids away on a hike, leaving us ladies with some peace and quiet as we lounged in the hammock and in our chairs, reading our books and enjoying the fresh, crisp breeze of the mountain air. Peace and quiet at last! No sooner than we opened our books then we heard music begin to blare from the trailer.

See, one of mom’s favorite things to do on a Sunday afternoon while camping is to blast her radio as loud as can be playing her “church” music-usually the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

My sister-in-law, family friend (Stephani) and I all looked at each other and sighed…and then chuckled. Just our luck!

“At least it’s not in Spanish,” Stephani joked.

As the song ended and a commercial cut in, my eyes grew wide and I turned to Stephani,

“It IS in Spanish!”

We laughed even harder and listened to mom’s Spanish music while trying to read our books. Not too long after, dad returned to the trailer and mom was complaining about the radio not working right. She began nagging him to help her put on her CD and when he put it on, she turned it up full volume. Dad looked out at me and said,

“Why don’t you see if your mom wants to go for a bike ride.”

I took that as my hint that dad needed a break and convinced my mom to take a ride with me. Again to my surprise, mom was easily distracted away from her music and agreed to take a ride with me.

My sister was trying to get mom to pose for the camera, but mom was oblivious to her requests. Please excuse this awful picture of me, keep in mind that we were camping, and I was roughing it!! I told you before, this blog shows the good, the bad and the ugly! Ha ha. ;)

camping 3 

This time, we made it more than 200 yards. As we rode, mom talked about a road that she used to always go down, but was having trouble remembering where it was.

“And it was the main road place, we always went by that one place too where it went up like that and do you know where that is too?”

When we reached a slight incline, mom stopped her bike and slid off the seat, her legs straddling the bike as she walked it up the hill.

“It’s so weird too how this makes my legs hurt so much too like this and I wish I could get a bigger part too to sit on too because it hurts to sit on this. Does it hurt you too to sit on it?”

Mom chatted my ear off as we rode a couple loops around the campground. She always let me know when she was done.

“Now take me back to the trailer please.”

camping 1 camping 2

Overall, I think mom did pretty well camping…much better than I thought she would do! She even called me today to let me know how happy she was about our weekend trip.

“It’s so good too that everyone was able to go to that place together too for the camping thing too and even that you went on the bike with me too, that was so fun too so thank you for taking me too.”

I’m glad that she enjoyed herself. Despite her intense desire to sit this one out, she ended up having a good time after all and I really feel like it was a good thing to get her out of the house. It is very likely that this was the last camping trip that we will be able to bring her on (although we did think that last year…). While we had a great time together as a family, it was sad to think that this trip probably marks the end of our family camping memories with mom. But we will hold onto these memories forever.


  1. What a wonderful trip you made! So glad you could all have this experience together. It might be the last time, but who knows? Have you ever heard of Randy Pausch? He did "The Last Lecture" a few years ago - a professor from Carnegie-Mellon who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He and his wife were on a Diane Sawyer program, and his wife talked about them seeing a therapist to help adjust to his illness. She said that it was tempting to think "this might be the last time," and how the therapist taught her to say "Not helpful," and to change her line of thinking, so she was able to remain in the moment, rather than grieving ahead of his death. You do such a nice job of balancing the "staying in the moment" with the "preparing for the next step to be prepared and ready to keep her safe." You are pretty amazing.

  2. Cass...Melvin and I were talking about 4th of July and Labor Day...I think Dad might be on board with that one, too.