I have survived for this month. I conquered school camp. I am now qualified to voice my opinion on those who put themselves forward to volunteer for duty.

Yes, I finally succumbed to going on school camp. Somehow I had managed to convince myself that I was ready to go where I hadn’t been before. My endless – but very rational – excuses that my role as mother of the house was to keep the home fires burning, while each child ventured off into the wilderness, had started to sound repetitive.  Surely I could do it, school camp can’t be that bad?

My memories of going on camp as a child are great. In fact, I became quite popular because Dad (a military man with a rank of Major) would come in his camouflage gear and army boots, with his ration packs and lead the troops. The boys all loved him (which meant they loved me). So did the teachers and all the parent helpers – and now I know why.

To put you in the picture, I’m not too keen on tents and I don’t do backpacking. I am not afraid to admit that I am more of a bach type of person, with a toilet and a shower. Those bare essentials are important because they keep me sane.

But shouldn’t I become just a little crazy now and again and live a little? Surely I could last four days, three nights at Camp Wakarara in the Ruahine Ranges. If nothing more, I would be doing it for love … to show Brittney (who loves camping) that her mum is up to it.

My saving grace … a car. At least I could pack endless amounts of clothes and chocolate and take extra pillows and a mattress or two. If worse came to worst, I could also sleep in the car, or drive back into town in the dead of night, returning showered, cappuccino-ed up and ready for action.

Well that was my plan, until somehow I was appointed the mother in charge of girls’ welfare.  Not really THINKING, I said sure, not a problem.  But there was a catch, it meant sleeping every night in a tent because I had to be close by – in case someone wanted to go to the toilet or got scared in the night. All other parents were allowed to sleep inside.

Now I was pretty flattered at being put in charge, after my daughter’s teacher so kindly told me it was because I sounded like someone in control. I couldn’t let her, or my image down, so I sucked it up and rose to the challenge. However, an hour after arriving, I started thinking of all the excuses I could come up with for having to leave! But realising running away was not an option, I mentally agreed that each time I started having dark thoughts I would put Britney first, as she would never forgive me if I left.

So here I was, and here I would stay. And then it started to rain.

I would get little sleep (until I worked out that if I put cotton wool in my ears what I couldn’t hear wouldn’t harm me, or get the children into trouble), wet shoes and smelly clothes, hat hair and no showers.

It’s also an adventure. It’s about getting close to nature, living on limited resources, sleeping on the ground, bonding, singing songs by the fire and toasting marshmallows.

My saving grace was not the car … it was the children. Remarkable creatures who never really complained, seemed to like my jokes, my singing and called me the General. Who enjoyed the fresh cold air and tramping in the mud, snow and rain; who lost and then found their shoes; who slept in tents that blew down and put them up again; who did the dishes, collected fire wood, entertained; and most of all made me laugh.

To all those parents who have done school camp and return for another, you are heroes.

And to those of you who will venture out there – you need to understand reality – it’s not a holiday. It is hard, tiresome work. And you must bring a sense of humour for when you want to scream at some poor cold child when they’re standing in nothing more than a t-shirt and a pair of fashion shoes in the pouring rain … and think they are ready to climb a mountain.

But above all school camp is life education. And I learnt how much I appreciate home, and bed and hot showers and a glass, or bottle, of wine.

Now, time will only tell if I am a hero or a survivor – I’ve worked out I have at least 20 more camps to go!!

P.S. Congratulations to all those who won an election seat and good luck. And to those who didn’t, take up camping!

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