“Checking on the Children” by Emily Heyne

Jan 11, 2023 | Adam Trufant

Future Kahdalea Program Directors taking in the sights during evening activity!

This past spring, the stomach bug visited and made its temporary home in my family’s
gastrointestinal tracts. My five-year-old daughter felt the presence of this unwelcome guest
more acutely than the rest of us. After four days of suffering this disagreeable intruder, I thought
the worst of it had passed for her, but that night, I was awoken again to the sound of a toilet
flushing. Then, all was quiet.

“She’s fine,” I tried to convince myself and attempted to go back to sleep.

“Get up and check on her.” A familiar voice nagged me, and the internal debate between
exhausted mom and responsible mom kept me from my slumbers.

I’d like to say that the familiar voice was my own maternal instinct urging me to care for
my offspring, but it was not my own. I first heard it more than twenty years ago, as a new
counselor in training. David Trufant was giving a group of us advice on trip-leading and shelter-
building. He had taught us how to look for good camping spots and level ground, how to set up
tarps for light rain and adjust for heavy. And, I used those skills for years, taking pride in my
competency. In recent times, as other obligations have taken precedence over my outdoor
adventures, I employ those skills less frequently, but Dave had concluded the presentation with
the following exhortation to us, and it’s his words I still hear at 3 a.m.:

“If it starts raining in the night, you have to get up and check on the shelters and your
campers. Make sure the water is running off the tarps and not pooling up on top or making
puddles underneath. Make sure none of your campers have rolled out. You have to get up and
check on them. It’s hard, but you have to get up and check.” Then, the father of seven quipped,
“It’ll be good practicing for parenting.” To my nineteen-year-old ears, such well-intentioned
impetus fell a bit flat; the prospect of parenting seemed far remote. Nevertheless, I was
motivated to excel as a wilderness guide, so I took his words to heart.

As it turned out, he was right. The discipline of rising in the night was essential for good
trip-leading and indeed a foretaste of parenting. It was only two weeks after learning how to set
up these shelters that I awoke to the sound of heavy rain against a tarp. I was leading a group
of ten-year old girls on a backpacking trip, and we were high up in the in the Shining Rock
Wilderness. It was one of those steady, soaking mountain rains that make the air heavy and
seem to dampen even the inside of dry bags. It was early June and the night was cold. Warm
and dry in my sleeping bag, I didn’t immediately get up, but I could hear Dave’s words echoing
in my mind. The newly-learned camp prayer finally roused me. “Help me to do the hard right
against the easy wrong,” I prayed and unzipped my bag, not realizing then just how hard that
“right” was soon going to become for me.

I checked on the shelters and the girls. The tarps were holding well—my knots were
solid, the stakes well-placed (I had had a good teacher)—but as I looked down at the campers
in my care, there was a gap in the row of sleepers. Despite the seemingly level ground, one
child had slid down through the six-inch gap at the bottom, and her sleeping bag was now over
half-way out of the tarp, wet with rain. I pulled her back up and checked to see if it had soaked
through. It had. This moment, they had not specifically covered in training, but I knew enough
not to leave her in a cold, wet bag. I roused her, brought her my own bag, and zipped her in.

I didn’t sleep much the rest of that night; my sweater and rain jacket made a poor
substitute for a sleeping bag. But as I lay there trying to ignore the chill, I knew I’d grown up a bit
that night. That was the first time I had sacrificed my sleep for a child. I didn’t enjoy it then and
still don’t now. But I did learn from camp that while love is sometimes silly dances and soccer
games; other times, it is simply poor sleep.

So, to the mamas of campers, you can be assured that the counselors here—just as you
have done countless times—are getting up and checking on your children, and you can get
some sleep.

Staying warm and dry under a tarp in the wild is a singular joy 🙂