I’ve never been camping with small children before, up until last week.
My extended family went East to Oliver in the only desert region in Canada for five days of camping with kids, four of them under the age of six years old. It was… a new experience to say the least. I’ve watched various people parent before and I’ve ‘uncled’ for upwards of a day at most so an extended bout of child-minding led me to some new insights. These insights are likely standard parenting procedure for most people with little ones.
The easiest way to look after them is to simply trail behind them and keep them within sight to protect them from their own curiosity and bad drivers. Gently steering them away from anthills or from charging headlong, fully clothed into the lake is much easier than suggesting a game of Mexican Train or Phase 10. That’s not to say that games weren’t played, they were, only with rules explicable by and to 3 year olds. One night while the rest of the family prepared dinner, I was in the front seat of my father’s 1975 GMC Crew Cab playing Dragons and Princesses with my three nieces, the fun part was sometimes I got to be the princess! Only to be horribly devoured by three pretty dragons. And it honestly made no sense, except for the fact that it kept 3 little girls out from underfoot while the rest of the family cooked the next meal.
One thing about my family that makes any family gather easier and more enjoyable is the fact that we all chip in and share the tasks, by playing with the girls dad and my brother were able to barbeque, then while I did the dishes with my mom, my brother might take them to the park, or my two sister-in-laws might spend time blowing bubbles with them or for a real fun, vocal experience, try to give them their children the requisite baths. Hearing a two year old go ‘owie owie owie’ as he hair is being washed is really rather amusing…
and confirmed my steadfast intention to remain an uncle.
Over the five days we visited three lakes and a spray park.
(Incidentally I’m trying something a touch different here in my presentation and write-up style. I wonder if anyone will capture it.)
– the youngest of the young ones at 20 months old, he would have been fine if we left him at our Gallagher Lake campsite. Indeed he was the easiest one to look after as all he needed was his dump truck, his excavator and some trains plus mounds of dirt and sand and rocks and no one had to wonder about him. He stomped around the campsite and joyously played outdoors in the dirt all day. He was the only one crying at the end of the five days because it was time to go home. He wanted to stay and dig and dump for much, much longer.
– the mischievous porcelain princess of the group. She speaks in complete sentences and soaks up vocabulary like a sponge. At Tac-el-Nuit Lake she sat in an inflatable donut raft and as her father and I pushed her back and forth atop the lake she flapped her hands and proclaimed, “I’m swimming!” And for a 22 month old I suppose she was. It was at this lake I discovered an interesting factoid about Oliver and Osoyoos during the summer, it morphs from towns of a few thousand (or so) to five to ten times the population, mostly Quebecois. These are younger, university aged students who backpack across Canada and spend some time picking fruit and grapes in the orchards and vineyards around the region. They aren’t in it for the money but for the experience and make a few dollars to drink cheap plonk and smoke BC bud before heading back east once more.
Also, this lake was devoid of Asian Mifoil, a horrible water plant that is ruining many lakes in the Okanagan and Kootenays of BC, because someone had introduced carp to the lake. The good thing, carp eat milfoil. The bad thing, carp eat most other plants too and push out local fish and have no natural predators.
Plus, something stung me in this lake. No idea what. I do know that I did pull the stinger out of my calf when I limped onto the beach. And for about four days my lower leg was swollen and the skin was tight, but better me than one of the kids.
Mackenna wanted to catch some of the minnows schooling in the shallows but having all the patience of a six-year-old that never happened as after about three minutes it was time to do something else.
– the wild maned three year old. There’s a good chance Aisling pronounces words better than Kylianne, but Kylianne enjoys a larger vocabulary (for now.) The true free spirit of the four, from her crazy hairstyles to wildly vibrant colours. She impetuously flits from thought to thought and it can be a difficult to follow along without a script, especially as Kylianne can’t write and loves to improve. It didn’t matter what she did, from dancing while Grandma sang to hysterical tears over some perceived slight. She kept things up-tempo and unpredictable. I didn’t spend much time with her at the spray park as on this day “Grandma” was her best friend. I generally watched planes with Nolan or got Mackenna in trouble. Because honestly Mackenna should you ever read this, I know you love to make the rules and all, but starting a water fight with your (naughty) uncle and then getting angry when water splashes you in the face is not a feasible rule.
It was at the spray park where I watched some interesting interactions with other toddlers, from the little girl who with the shark bucket who only wanted to top up everyone elses’ buckets, to the little boy running riot (while his mother silently gave up) and wanting to play only on toys that other children were already using, to the mother who “only looked away for a moment” before my brother lifted her 2 year old down off the third rung of the monkey bars where the wee one had been dangling precariously.
Kylianne finds herself following Mackenna (her older sister) and being idolized by her younger cousin (Aisling.) She’s the unpredictable isotope that really is fun to try to keep up with.
With the wee ones exhausted and napping from the Spray Park, Mom, Andrew, Jo and I left Dad and Christie to tend the toddlers while we struck out for some wineries. The first one was acceptable except I didn’t like the proprietor’s slovenly ways, the dogs stalking through the sampling room and broken driveway. The second one, Le Vieux Pin, turned into an hour long sampling, not due to the amount of wine consumed but because as we looked upon the wine vats, my brother commented “is that the new winemaker in the overalls with the paint roller?” “No, that’s her husband.”
And wouldn’t you know it, small world, it happened to be Mike Kosaka who I first met when I played soccer for the Maple Ridge Alouettes when I was seven and I graduated from high school with him. Last I knew he was in the south the France with his (winemaking) wife while he thought I was still in Korea. An hour later, wherein we caught up on old times and new and how we both ended up in French styled winery in Oliver it was time to go home. I think Mike summed it up best when he said, “of all the people to walk through the doors, I’m not surprised it’s you Byron.”
– the imperial rule creating Grade 1 grad. On this day we went to the biggest lake we would visit, Ska-ha and I have to give Andrew a lot of credit as he knows this area pretty well and planned out the excursions. Nolan would have been delighted to remain at Gallagher Lake where we camped but the girls enjoyed places where they could wade and float in the water. Ska-ha Lake stretches out like a blue pearl dropped in the sand-swept hills of the near desert climate north of Oliver. In fact it’s in OK Falls (spoiler: the falls disappeared in the 50s during an irrigation or dam project.) It was similar to the other two lake trips, only this time lunch was hotdogs. The lake was being ‘tidied up’ with all sorts of construction going on, which Nolan supported by immediately crashing into any dirt pile he could find.
Andrew did an interesting triangle swim into the very cold lake and I… lent him my goggles. It must be mostly run-off from melting snows since the lakes were COLD. The kids generally left the lakes when their lips turned blue and they couldn’t talk over the chattering of their teeth.
After lunch we look up and suddenly the two youngest ones are over half-way to the shoreline, so I dutifully put down my book and go and follow their wake to make sure they don’t venture too far into the chill waters. Soon, the older two have joined and for a short while it is me against the lake front against the four little ones.
I didn’t lose, as I lost none of them.
Then it was time for ice cream! As it is. And Tickleberries just south of Ska-ha Lake is an absolute must visit for lovers of ice cream. A huge selection in a very funky, kooky fun atmosphere and surprisingly affordable, especially for the obscenely sized cones available for purchase. There Maple Walnut and Peanut Butter Bliss are the most popular, I opted for a Caribou Caramel, while Nolan (who is lactose incompatible) received a Baby Bear Orange Sherbet, just a tiny lil dollop of a scoop, perfect for him.
On the morning the three groups broke their campsites and headed for home. Without the pressure of minding the youngest generation, Mom, Dad and I were able to visit another two wineries, both easily accessible from the road since Dad was pulling a 21 foot trailer behind his Crew Cab. The first stop was Cassini Cellars, an elegant Italian styled winery right off the main road and an easy choice. The reds proved full and heady and the woman behind the Italian marble counter a lively and enthusiastic salesperson. After retiring and relocating from Victoria, she does this as much to keep active and for a love of wine as for the money. The only thing she misses about Victoria is the fresh seafood.
(Deserts… not the best for the freshest ocean offerings.)
The second stop was a place called Rustico. Mom thought it might be another Italian Rustic style winery. It wasn’t. In this instance rustic referred to the old west so instead of wine glasses it was rot-gut bourbon tumblers for sampling some truly exceptional wines. The vinter used to work for a major BC Company as a Corporate VP before opening his own ad agency. Now he’s retired to Oliver to grow grapes and ride horses. The entire place exudes authentic rustic, Rustico charm.
Needless to say more than a few bottles found their way home to the west coast.
So that was it, to sum up it was following toddlers around water and snatching sips of wine. It may be my last family trip for a while, but considering how I so often travel, it was a welcome change of pace.