The Weather

The Camping Lesson

Teacher Jan: Okay class, everybody circle up, it’s circle time, it’s time, Calder, Bethany—Calder, we’ve talked about biting. No biting.

Calder: I’m nibbling.

Teacher Jan: No nibbling. Nothing with the teeth. That’s our rule, remember. You can bite food. Not people. Okay? Got it?

[Calder nods skeptically.]

Teacher Jan: Okay. Today we’re going to talk about something new. We’re going to talk about camping. Can anyone tell me what camping is?

Henry: That’s where your mommy sends you away when she wants to spend more time with Mr. Dugan.

Teacher Jan: Okay. Well. Okay. I think you mean camp, like summer camp.

Henry: There’s mosquitoes.

Teacher Jan: Right. That’s camp, the place you go, mostly in the summer, with activities.

Henry: The mosquitoes suck your blood through their nose. And counselor Dave taught us how to pee on a tree.

Teacher Jan: Right. That’s camp.

Henry: You have to aim away from yourself.

[Henry stands, to demonstrate.]

Teacher Jan: Henry, Henry no. Please, please put that away. We’re in circle time now. We’re not in the woods. If you have to go to the bathroom, Lulu will go with you. Okay? And sit. We’re sitting now. Good. For now I want to talk about going camping. That’s when you sleep outside.

Lea: Why are we going to camp?

Calder: What if we pee on our self?

Teacher Jan: Don’t talk that way, Calder. That’s not how we talk. And we’re going camping, Lea, we’re pretending to go camping, because it’s beautiful outside in nature and there’s lots of fresh air and you can look up at night and count the stars.

Ivy: But why do we have to sleep outside?

Teacher Jan: You don’t—

Ivy: It’s dirty outside. I’m going to tell mama if you make me sleep out there.

Teacher Jan: We’re not going to sleep outside, Ivy. I just want to talk about camping. I want us to learn about camping together. Okay? So the first thing we need to talk about is what you need to go camping. I’m going to make a big list so we won’t forget. If we’re going to sleep outside, what sort of things do we need?

Cole: A note from mom.

Teacher Jan: Okay. Good. Maybe a note from mom. But let’s say we’re going camping with your mom.

Cole: She needs a note from her mom.

Teacher Jan: Okay. What else would we need? What else would we bring, to protect us from the rain?

Henry: It’s not raining.

Teacher Jan: But if it did start raining.

Sandro: A house.

Teacher Jan: A house?

Calder: With a fireplace.

Teacher Jan: But camping is sleeping outside. Can we really be sleeping outside if we bring our house along?

Calder: We could bring the outside of our house, too.

Teacher Jan: But wouldn’t that be heavy? To bring a whole house? Isn’t there something that doesn’t weigh so much.

Henry: A roof!

Emma: My roof!

Henry: No, my roof. Your roof is ugly.

Emma: Your roof is stinky. Your roof is made of poop.

Henry: That’s potty talk!

Calder: Roof! Roof!

[Calder starts nipping at Ivy’s heels. Ivy squeals.]

Teacher Jan: Calder, what did we just talk about? About teeth. About no teeth. You need to sit in your spot in the circle. On your bottom. Good. Now we were talking about what to take camping so you don’t get cold, and Henry said a roof. But a roof is pretty heavy, isn’t it? That’s not something you could fit in your backpack, is it?

Sandro: How about shingles? Then you could build a roof.

Teacher Jan: That’s true, Sandro. But that’s still pretty heavy.

Sandro: One shingle!

Teacher Jan: Would a shingle really protect you from the rain and wind?

[Sandro nods vehemently.]

Teacher Jan: I was thinking about a tent. Do you know what a tent is?

Calder: A tent!

Teacher Jan: It’s like a tiny little house made of nylon.

Bethany: Like a dollhouse!

Teacher Jan: Like a dollhouse. But it’s bigger than a dollhouse. It’s big enough for people to sleep inside and it keeps the rain out so it’s nice and warm and cozy and you can build a tent yourself. It folds up small enough that you can carry it in your backpack. So a tent. That’s great. What else do we need to go camping?

Ivy: What’s mylon?

Teacher Jan: Nylon is a material used for jackets and shoes.

Henry: What’s it made of?

Teacher Jan: It’s made of… molecules.

Henry: What?

Teacher Jan: We can talk about that later. What’s important is that tents protect us from the rain and the wind when we go camping. So we have our tent. What else do we need to go hiking. Do we need clothes?

Emma: Yes. My Easter dress and my stripey tights and my new ballet slippers.

Teacher Jan: That would be pretty. But remember: we’re hiking. It’s a lot of walking. So what do you need when you hike?

Sandro: M&M’s.

Teacher Jan: Okay, we’re going to talk about food soon, but for now we’re talking about clothes, what we should wear for our hike before we camp.

Lea: Shoes.

Teacher Jan: Just shoes?

Calder: Boots.

Teacher Jan: Right!

Emma: I have fur boots with real heels.

Teacher Jan: Boots are good, but because we’re going to walk a long way, maybe we should have boots made for walking.

Henry: How long do we have to walk?

Teacher Jan: Remember, Sandro, we’re just pretending. We’re making believe.

Sandro: Can I still bring my shingle?

Teacher Jan: No.

Sandro: I feel like I really need my shingle.

Bethany: I’m bringing a shingle, too.

Cole: Why does everyone get a shingle but me? It’s not fair.

Teacher Jan: We’re going to make a new rule. The new rule is: no more talking about shingles, okay? Shingles do not belong on a camping trip. Shingles can’t protect us from the rain and shingles are heavy. So we’re going to leave all the shingles where they belong, which is on our roofs.

[Henry raises his hand.]

Teacher Jan: Yes Henry?

Henry: Why are you still talking about shingles?

[Teacher Jan’s left eye is now twitching.]

Teacher Jan: Right. Henry is right. So let’s move on. After we hike, we’re going to want to eat something, right? We should bring some food.

Calder: Rice Krispie treats!

Lea: Cupcakes!

Sandro: Sugar!

Henry: Equal!

Teacher Jan: Equal?

Henry: Yeah. It’s a kind of sugar that my mom gives me. It comes in the blue package. It’s really good.

Cole: I want some Equal!

Teacher Jan: Okay, but how about some growing food? How about some fruit? Can someone say a fruit they like.

Sandro: Life Savers!

Henry: Fruit roll!

Lea: Apricot jam!

Emma: I want a bagel!

Sandro: Let’s just have bagels.

Teacher Jan: It’s not snack time yet, is it? First we have circle time. Then we do snacks, right? And we’re talking in circle time about camping and the sort of food we bring. We need growing food for camping, so we bring some fruit and maybe some GORP. Do you know what GORP is? It’s very delicious. It’s raisins and nuts and M&M’s.

Henry: But I can’t have nuts. My throat will close shut and my dad will sue the hell out of the whole airline.

Teacher Jan: Then we won’t have GORP. We can bring whatever we like. So we’ll have fruit and crackers and cheese.

Ivy: I can’t poop if I have cheese. Then, when I do poop, the toilet breaks and my mom yells.

Teacher Jan: Hummus, then. We’ll have hummus, okay?

Bethany: What’s hummish?

Teacher Jan: But we also need to cook our dinner. So what would we need to cook?

Calder: Microwave.

Sandro: Microwave popcorn!

Teacher Jan: Remember, this is outside. So there’s no electricity.

Henry: But electricity comes from lightning.

Teacher Jan: Yes, that’s true. But that’s not the kind of electricity you can control.

Henry: Yes you could! Ben Franklin did. With a kite.

Teacher Jan: Okay, but when we camp we have to do things differently. If we want to boil some water for pasta, we can’t use an appliance.

Ivy: No pasta, either. Same thing. With the poop. Then the yelling.

Teacher Jan: So what would we need? To make dinner outside.

[Silence]

Cole: Table?

Lea: Napkins?

Calder: Outside microwave?

Henry: Kite?

Teacher Jan: Those are all good, but I was thinking something that could hold the rice.

Sandro: A bag! The bag with the shingle!

Teacher Jan: Something you can heat up—

Henry: Microwave pop—

Teacher Jan [growing louder]: Something you can heat things in, like rice or pasta or just water for cocoa, like something you put on the stove to heat things. Okay? Okay? So let’s say a… pot, okay? Can we just say a pot?

[Silence]

Teacher Jan: Good. We have a pot. But how do we make it hot?

Henry: Micro—

Teacher Jan: No. Not a microwave. We need a simpler way of making the pot hot. So why don’t we, what’s really hot?

Emma: My boots. My boots are hot pink.

Teacher Jan: Yes, but I mean really hot.

Emma: With fur.

Teacher Jan: How do we make something hot?

Emma: The fur isn’t pink.

Teacher Jan: We make things hot with fire, right? Isn’t fire hot?

Cole: Yeah.

Teacher Jan: So we have to build a fire. What do we need to build a fire? Have any of you made a fire in your fireplace?

Sandro: Not allowed. Dad says to get away!

Teacher Jan: But now we’re outside. And dad is there. And we have a pit to build our fire in.

Henry: Who dug the pit?

Cole: I wasn’t told about the pit. Hey, nobody told me! I love digging.

Sandro: I love digging too.

Cole: Backhoe! Dumper!

Lea: Digging is stupid. Dumb-di-diggy-dumb.

Teacher Jan: Please don’t speak like a mentally handicapped person, Lea. We’ve talked about this.

Lea: … Sorry.

Teacher Jan: It’s circle time. We’re talking about camping. We were building a fire. So what are we going to burn to make our fire?

Henry: Wood!

Cole: Emma’s boots!

Calder: Burn everything!

Teacher Jan: No. We don’t burn everything, Calder. And we don’t talk that way unless we want a timeout. We burn wood, like Henry said. We have to go and gather some firewood from the forest before it gets dark.

Ivy: It’s getting dark?

Bethany: Uh-oh.

Teacher Jan: Remember, we’re just pretending. We’re just pretending and now we’ve done our hike and seen all sorts of pretty things on our hike and we’ve put up our tent and gathered our wood to make our fire and we’ve even cooked dinner. Okay? And now we’re going to make some dessert.

Sandro: Finally.

Calder: Yeah, it’s about time!

Cole: What took so long?

Teacher Jan: I have an idea. Why don’t we toast marshmallows?

Lea: Yes!

Maria: Marshmallows.

Henry: No! Marshmallows have animal hooves in them. My mom saw it on a show. I don’t want hooves.

Teacher Jan: Okay, but we have a kind of marshmallow with no hooves, so we’re going to toast them with sticks, so we go get some sticks and toast the marshmallows and if we want we can put them on graham crackers, and if we were good and ate all our supper, even the vegetables, mom even has Hershey bars for us.

Sandro: What vegetables?

Cole: Nobody said anything about vegetables.

Teacher Jan: Remember, we have to hurry. Because we want to get ready for bed before it gets too cold and dark because we’re camping outside.

Ivy: It’s dark now, too?

Sandro: Excuse me, I would like to ask about these vegetables you talked about before.

Teacher Jan: But we’re having marshmallows and graham crackers and Hershey bars now. Because you all did so good and ate your special camping dinner. We’re having s’mores. That’s what they’re called. S’mores. Does anyone know why they’re called s’mores?

Sandro: But I didn’t eat my vegetables. I never eat vegetables.

Teacher Jan: This is just pretend camping, Sandro. Remember? We’re just pretending.

Calder: Are we still burning things?

Teacher Jan: No, we’re getting ready for bed now. We’re getting ready to climb in our tent. So what do we need to go to bed?

Lea: Baby Jaguar!

Emma: Fancy Nancy in Golden Toe Shoes!

Henry: My Dumper.

Cole: My Thermos.

Calder: Ammo.

Teacher Jan: Ammo?

Calder: Yeah.

Teacher Jan: Do you mean Elmo?

Calder: Ammo. The things you shoot out of a gun.

Teacher Jan: Wait—what? Do you mean ammunition?

[Calder nods.]

Teacher Jan: Why would you need ammunition, Calder? I find that very upsetting.

Calder: To shoot the Indians. To kill the Indians.

Teacher Jan: To kill the Indians? That’s not very nice.

Calder: The Indians aren’t very nice. They took my dump truck.

Teacher Jan: Okay, everyone quiet down now. This is important. Calder, I want to say something to you, to all of you. In this classroom, we don’t use guns. We don’t point guns. We don’t talk about killing people, especially Indians.

Calder: But they started it.

Teacher Jan: If you say another word about this, Calder, if you talk about guns or ammo or shooting anyone, you will be getting a big timeout. Is that understood?

[Calder nods reluctantly.]

Teacher Jan: Now, we were talking about the things we need to go to sleep on our camping trip. We were making a list. So what else do we need?

Henry: Our bed.

Teacher Jan: Actually, a bed would be too big for our tent—

Henry: It’s just a toddler bed.

Teacher Jan: No, when we camp we use a sleeping bag. Has anyone used a sleeping bag before?

Lea: Is that like a sleep sack?

Teacher Jan: It’s like a sleep sack, but it’s even bigger. It’s very cozy.

Lea: Why hasn’t my mommy gotten me one before?

Teacher Jan: It’s for big girls and boys, who are ready to camp outside. So that’s where we’ll sleep, in our sleeping bags. But first we’ll brush our teeth? So we better have our toothbrushes and toothpaste, right?

Henry: You have to brush hard or you get gingivitis.

Calder: What?

Henry: That’s when your teeth turn black.

Teacher Jan: I don’t think—

Henry: Yes it is. Dr. Scarpaccio said. They turn black, then they fall out.

Sandro: Black?

Teacher Jan: It’s ok. We brushed our teeth. We brushed our teeth very well. They’re nice and shiny and white and they’re not going to fall out. Now we just have to have a story and go to sleep.

Lea: Can we have our books?

Teacher Jan: Sure. You have to choose your favorite. And you need to be able to read the words, so we need some light.

Cole: My night light!

Teacher Jan: No electricity, remember?

Henry: Lightning!

Teacher Jan: No, I think a flashlight makes more sense. How many of you have a flashlight at home? Great. What’s nice about a flashlight is that you can carry it with you.

Henry: What if we have to go potty?

Teacher Jan: Actually, we can use a flashlight for that. We’ll probably need a little shovel, too.

Calder: Wait, what?

Teacher Jan: A little shovel. Because if you make a poop in the woods, we need to dig a hole for it.

[Silence]

Emma: You’re kidding, right?

Lea: Of course she’s kidding.

Ivy: I don’t get it.

Teacher Jan: Remember, when you camp, you do everything outside. So that means going to the bathroom outside, too.

Emma: See, there is a bathroom.

Teacher Jan: No, the bathroom is the woods. And you take your shovel and dig a hole and that’s where you make a pee or a poo. Then you cover it up again.

[Long silence]

Ivy: Let me get this straight. You leave the tent and walk into the woods and dig a hole and make a poop in that?

Cole: Poop hole!

Sandro: Poop hole!

[Sandro and Cole begin digging imaginary holes and pooping into them.]

Teacher Jan: Sandro, Cole—please. Sit down. Everyone. Let’s not be silly. Let’s shake all the silliness out, okay? Everybody shake. Keep shaking. Okay. Now that all the sillies are shook out, let’s circle up again. Cole. Calder. Calder. Sit. Down. Okay. Calder. Now listen: we’re talking about how to go camping. We’re pretending. But it’s not the same as at home. Camping is outside. So we do everything differently.

Lea: But why are we going camping?

Cole: Yeah. We didn’t ask to go camping.

Teacher Jan: Because, remember, it’s nice to be outside. You have the breeze, the fresh air that smells so good, and you can look up and count the stars. Maybe we should do that. Who wants to count the stars?

Sandro: And poop in a hole!

Ivy: No!

Emma: I will not!

Teacher Jan: No more poop talk. It’s not funny.

Henry: This is all happening at night?

Teacher Jan: You can go to the bathroom before dinner, okay. And you can even wear a pull-up. I know this sounds a little scary, but when we camp we do things differently.

[More silence]

Cole: What if there are rattlesnakes at the bottom of my sleeping bag?

Lea: Rattlesnakes?

Emma: Where did the rattlesnakes come from?

Henry: Under the rocks.

Teacher Jan: There won’t be any rattlesnakes.

Cole: How do you know?

Calder: What if they bite you while you’re making a poop?

[Cole and Ivy begin to cry. Lulu tries to comfort them.]

Teacher Jan: There are no scary animals on this camping trip, understood? No snakes. No bears. Just birds and ladybugs and maybe some little fish in the river.

Calder: Bears?

Sandro: Grizzly bears?

Lea: No!

Calder: They can slice you in two with their claws. I saw it on TV.

Teacher Jan: Everyone calm down. Calm down, okay? Let’s just take a deep breath and sit on our bottoms and take a deep breathe. We’re just talking this morning. We’re talking about camping, which is something some people like to do, mommies and daddies, because there are so many fun parts.

Henry: Excuse me, Teacher Jane. Excuse me. But I don’t like the idea of going camping.

Teacher Jan: I realize—

Henry: Because, for instance, first you have the bears, which you didn’t say about before. And the snakes, which live under rocks. And then also burning things in the fire.

Calder: Burn the tent!

Henry: And pooping in the dark woods, which doesn’t sound safe even with the lightning. And so what I think we should do—

Teacher Jan: But we’re just pretending, Henry.

Henry: Excuse me, teacher Jane, what I think we should do is we should vote about it. Because I don’t think the other children want to go either.

Teacher Jan: There’s no need to vote. We’re not going anywhere. We’re just talking about what it would be like.

Henry: Right. But we don’t like how it sounds.

Cole: Yeah, we could go to the zoo instead.

Emma: Or the aquarium.

Teacher Jan: That’s what I’m trying to explain. We’re not going anywhere. We’re just talking and using our imagination.

Calder: Teacher? Excuse me?

Teacher Jan: Yes?

Calder: I think we should burn the aquarium!

Steve Almond is the author of several books of fiction and non-fiction, most recently the story collection "God Bless America."