One of the great mythic stories in our family involves a camp-out in our enormous back yard in a refrigerator box fort, a sudden spat between my two brothers and a trip to the emergency room for stitches when one of them threw a 10-pound wooden block into the box and it crash-landed on the other's head. Ouch!
But boy did we have some fun times camping out in those refrigerator boxes! We'd arrange them in a circle and spend the whole night pretending to be cowboys or army guys. After Momma had grilled burgers and fed us outside on the picnic table, she'd head inside and we would run, tussle, punch and tumble for hours until we crawled into those comfy boxes that would be soggy and damp by dawn's light.
These days, you have to look pretty hard to find big boxes like that for fort building, but you can still create a fun camp-out for the kids, and this weekend, there's even an excuse to try it.
The National Wildlife Federation is promoting the Great American Backyard Campout on Saturday night (June 28) as a way to get kids more in touch with nature. Last year more than 42,000 people from around the country participated.
We haven't found anyone locally who has signed up (the nearest is in Sarasota), but now that you know about it, why not give it a whirl? You can go to the official Web site to sign up (www.backyardcampout.org) and to find some resources for getting started.
The Go Momma staff also got a little nostalgic and came up with this totally unscientific, non-expert list of tips and suggestions for fueling imaginations and keeping the troops happy:
• Set a limit on the amount of kids you're willing to baby-sit, because once word get out you're doing this, the whole neighborhood's going to want to drop by. If so, tell 'em BYOB (bring your own burger.)
• Set up the Gameboy/gadget dumping barrel. No excuses. Threaten them with dreaded palmetto bug release in their shoes if they don't comply.
• Speaking of bugs, lay in a supply of Deet, because with all of this standing water we've been having, you'll be lucky if the mosquitoes don't carry your youngest away.
• Decide on a time to set up camp. Preferably, this will be after a big honkin' thunderstorm has moved through in the afternoon. Soggy tents or boxes aren't pretty. (See the reference to standing water above when one does.)
• Channel your best Poindexter imitation and go to www.space.com/nightsky to download a map of the night sky so you can look for constellations when the sun goes down. Sure, odds are the light pollution will be so bad that the only thing you'll see is the Big Dipper (or is it the little one?), but when you do, you can have endless arguments with your kids over which one it is.
• If you're not a member of PETA or have some other aversion to this activity, have some jars at the ready in case you see any lightning bugs to catch. Be sure to show them how to pinch off the glowing end of one so you can stick it in the middle of your forehead.
• Come up with some fun games like seeing who can cram the most marshmallows in their mouth and then sing that song Low by Flo Rida. No wait, didn't someone die doing that? If so, then you might want to save that bit of information for the next tip.
• Be thinking about the ghost story you're going to tell that's going to make the night a scary dark hole of terror for even the biggest kid there. (Oh, did we say that? It's not really true. We were just kidding with you. C'mon, it's just something we made up, for crying out loud!)
• Brush up on all those corny jokes you used to tell back in the day. You know, the one about the bacon stretcher that was just hilarious. It will take their minds off the scary dark hole of terror that's about to swallow them up for the night when you leave.
Which brings us to:
• Establish an "I surrender" sign for the scaredy-cats who won't make it through the night because the dog barked, then they heard the bushes rustle and then they thought someone was coming after them, and then, and then, and then . . .
Anne Glover can be reached at (727) 893-8562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.