Good News, Dad News: Happy Campers

Joel Oliphint
Joel Oliphint

Attempting to schedule summer camps for two kids is a Herculean task I leave mostly to my wife, Kate, because she is somehow able to do it without throwing the laptop across the room.

It's worth it, though. Our kids, 8 and 10, love most of the camps, and I like giving them experiences they wouldn't otherwise have. In most cases, I'm a little jealous. I'd love some dedicated time to hike or perfect my free throws.

One camp last year was a particularly new and bold adventure: a two-week overnight camp in a different state. I felt sick to my stomach when we dropped off our kids, and I could tell they felt the same. But we also knew multiple families who had gone to this camp, and the parents swore their kids loved it. Plus, we thought a challenge would be good for them.

We mailed postcards early so both kids would receive mail on their first day of camp. Meanwhile, back home, Kate and I raced to the mailbox every day to check for letters from camp, and we breathed gigantic, teary sighs of relief when the notes finally came.

Once we got the good word, Kate and I could more fully embrace some rare kidless time. We weighed whether to tackle a big house project in the evenings or to make our own version of post-work adult camp, with hiking and other outdoor explorations. The latter sounded a lot more fun.

One of the first evenings, we walked Downtown along the Scioto Mile—a simple pleasure we'd yet to experience. I also finally got to see the bison I'd heard about at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park. Another time, we indulged in beers at BrewDog in Canal Winchester and enjoyed a gorgeous twilight hike at nearby Slate Run Metro Park.

On the weekend, we ventured farther out to Lancaster for beers and barbecue at Rockmill Brewery and a 3-mile hike at the nearby Christmas Rocks State Nature Preserve, which is home to a rock formation known as Jacob's Ladder that provides a gorgeous vista you wouldn't expect to see in cornfield country.

I'd always wanted to see the Serpent Mound, and it was worth the drive to Southern Ohio. But I was more impressed by another historic site closer to home: Mound City, a 13-acre span of greenspace in Chillicothe managed by the National Park Service. A 4-foot earthen, rectangular wall encloses a group of 23 mounds built by an ancient civilization. Hiking at Fort Ancient in Oregonia provided another great mix of nature and history.

We missed our kids like crazy (promise!) and wrote them daily. The kids admitted to some homesickness, too, but we didn't regret the decision. A parent's job is to protect, nurture, discipline, instruct, steer and provide, but one aspect of the job we sometimes neglect is equipping our kids with the skills they'll need to one day navigate life on their own. That day will be here sooner than I'd like to admit.

Spending some extended time away from us challenged them, but they persevered (and so did we). I believe they're now better equipped to face tough things on their own than they were previously. They even begged us to let them return to camp this summer. We obliged.

Maybe this year, we'll opt to take on a house project over those two weeks. But probably not.

Joel Oliphint is associate editor ofColumbus Alive, but don't be surprised if he someday applies to be a park ranger at Mound City.