Halfway through August, my mom, Brielle, Bianca and I had the pleasure of going to a weekend retreat for mothers and daughters at Camp Kupugani in the Illinois woods west of Rockford. I can’t say enough what a great time we had and what a terrific mental and physical break it was for all of us.
Camp Kupugani is unique in that it is free of religious and cultural “restrictions”. Many camps are sponsored by a certain group so you tend to find campers of the exact same color, lifestyle and religious/cultural affiliation. What really drew me to Kupugani is that they celebrate the exact opposite. They welcome and encourage campers from all walks of life, from all countries and the camp is free of religion and even patriotic nonsense. I was thrilled and this is precisely the environment I want the girls to experience for obvious reasons. We are all part of planet earth.
On top of the obvious benefits of diversity and universal acceptance, the camp itself was a delightful retreat from crazy, modern life. Nestled deep in the woods, with the happy chorus of insects in the tree canopy only interrupted by the crunch of pebbles beneath your feet, our bodies slowly started to recover from the constant electronic barrage we are used to. Leaving negative people, work stress and other negative thoughts behind, we surrounded ourselves with positive people and air so fresh it felt alive.
That is not to say that the great outdoors is always peaches and cream. The first night at the campfire, Brielle was literally assaulted by an army of mosquitos…… on…her…face. Her poor face swelled up like a prize fighter and her eyes were swollen half shut. It did not seem to bother her but it was painful for the rest of us to look at.
Staying clean and fresh is obviously more of a challenge when you are spending so much time outside. Sweaty and gross from carrying luggage and kids back and forth from the car, I tried to shower the first night after the girls were asleep. The first thing I saw in the showers were two exceedingly creepy spiders that appeared to be a cross between Daddy Long Legs and Tarantulas. I gave myself a pep talk and bravely moved to a different shower stall. The second I turned on the shower, a rat ran directly in front of my face along the water pipe. After releasing some sort of guttural scream that I have never heard come out of my own body – I decided that a night shower wasn’t the best idea and I saved it for the next day. (Side note: I love our pet rats – most likely because they don’t stalk me in the shower).
Our radically unstructured life seemed to collide with the relatively loose restrictions of camp as well. We are a family of grazers and the girls have a snack drawer and tons of fruit and vegetables at their disposal for them to help themselves to. Three meals a day with no snacks was very hard for us. Brielle seems to have blood sugar issues and it affects her mood pretty dramatically if she hasn’t eaten. Kupugani does not allow any food in the cabins just to keep the animals away, which makes sense, but I think we would have to bring our own food next time and leave it in the camp kitchen or I will have to start lactating enough to sustain both girls when we go back next year.
Having never been forced to sit through school or church, the girls are not used to structured activities or even listening to an announcement of any kind. While I am aware that sitting quietly and just listening is a very unnatural condition for children, I also realize that it is kind of important if you want to know the camp activities or schedules. Brielle wants to go to the real summer camp for two weeks next year and we might have to figure something out because she just wanted to run amok and hop in and out of activities that suited her. It obviously speaks to our free range lifestyle but it made it difficult to participate in as many activities as I wanted to.
Lastly, not being able to cosleep was very difficult. I spent the first night in and out of beds smaller than twins, cuddling the girls back to sleep with my body hanging half off the bed. Mercifully, Brielle climbed into her upper bunk halfway through the first night and after that I discovered that sleeping feet to head was a much better arrangement and kept me from falling off the bed and allowed me catch a few zzzs.
The real highlight of the weekend however, was the people we met, both staff and the other campers. We had delightful cabin mates (or cabinet mates as Bianca would say) and the staff was top notch. Some mothers were there with two daughters, one daughter was there with two mothers and there were plenty of other single moms. The common thread was that all the mothers were utterly dedicated, hard working and loving. It was so just so clear in the way they interacted with their daughters and vice versa.
All in all it was a magnificent experience to be around other naturally minded mothers who weren’t afraid to jump in and get dirty and their equally amazing daughters. We got to talk, share and laugh and have mother/mother time as well as really great mother/daughter time. I absolutely loved the opportunity to see how many other mothers face the exact challenges that I do. Should it make me feel so much better to know that I am not alone? It really did. We can’t wait to go back next year.