We took our children camping for the first time since we received our foster children. It was difficult to schedule, and we were greatly worried about the baby (5 months old, but really only 3 ... being a preemie and all ...) and about how the little boy would handle the change of scenery. We had to get special permission from the county social worker to take them out of the county, and it was indeed the first time we've taken them out of the county since we received them.
We were suspicious that our foster son had not been to the beach before, as he didn't seem to comprehend what we meant when we talked about it. We've been surprised by a lot of things lately as his mental gears shift into a more accepting mode of where he is and that he's likely to stay with us for a long time. Just recently in the grocery store, he walked over and nearly hauled a case of beer off the shelf, insisting that I wanted to "buy some beer?" We knew that his previous caretakers drank alcohol, but to have one as young as him internalize that all daddies do that -- even though I have never once drank a beer and we have never once purchased such a thing -- was kind of sad.
That coupled with the fact that he was so well-schooled in all of the various types of fast food ("Wanna go Taco Bell?" "Burger King?" "McDonalds?" "Wendy's?" "Jack-in-Box?" -- even though we only rarely go out to eat -- and we've never once actually named some of those places in his presence -- only emphasized the fact that his life experience was truly centered around junk food and TV. His 3-year-old regaling me with his hope that he'd be able to go visit his family so he could wander the house while they took a nap and watched TV in bed was frightening and terribly sad at the same time.
So it was that we were quite interested to take him on this camping trip. As we drove to the ocean and it came into sight, he called it a big "bathtub". We knew right then he had never seen the ocean before, and that he had no idea what was in store. Our day of arrival was filled mostly with driving, setting up camp, and the children bi-/tricycling around the campsite. Each new experience was a new one for him. He'd never seen an open fire before. Never roasted a hot dog. Never peed on a bush or had chipmunks and birds wander so close to us. He was alarmed by the fact that bugs were all around us (though he was soon calling every pill bug he saw "my bug", and I'm pretty sure he thought there was just the one), and he had certainly never slept in a tent. If it weren't for the fact that he's such a good sleeper, that might have been a problem, but he did well.
The next day we got up and the children continued to play around camp through the morning. It was a little cold, so we didn't get to the beach until the afternoon. As he was taken towards the water, he immediately began to panic, biting his nails of both hands simultaneously (we call it "corn-cobbing" and he only does that when he's <i>really</i> nervous). As we got closer, he was soon grabbing legs and begging us not to throw him in (and no, it wasn't like he had an experience like that before, he just didn't know what to expect).
As we went down to the sand, my two oldest children quickly freed the shovels and started digging. My seven-year-old got the sand trucks and started racing them around. Seeing this, our foster son started to relax, but it took great coaxing to bring him towards the water. He never would willingly get in the water, but he wasn't wise to the fact that the waves alternate the height of their lapping. As we built "forts" which looked safe enough, he'd climb in the middle and soon have water swirling around his feet. He looked at us in alarm, but took the cue from everybody that this was normal and not of concern -- he didn't freak out, but took it fairly well.
Even so, he would never come down into the waves with me, even when I offered to hold his hand or carry him. We didn't take our body boards with us (no space in the van! we gotta figure that one out ...), which was just as well, as I'm very sure he wasn't quite ready for that little adventure just yet. All in good time. Next week we'll be back at the beach and we'll have all the gear with us. My older three kids love the waves, so it will be interesting to watch him mentally process the fact that the four of us (my wife prefers to stay high and dry) are in the water.
As the camping trip came to a close, he soon was tantruming because he didn't want to leave. We stopped at a playground in Santa Barbara on the way home to play for a few hours and have lunch, and when it was time to go he was tantruming that he didn't want to leave <i>there</i>, either. And as we drove away from the ocean, he tantrumed that he didn't want to go home. From this, I can conclude that he enjoyed himself, and it is good to see that he does not fear these new things very much. We still have so much to teach him, though. So much!
Ah, well. At least we're enjoying the process ... now if only we could keep him from having those tantrums ...
Oh, and the baby did just fine - though she was cold the first night and ate in the middle of the night (something she hasn't done in weeks ...).