For the umpteenth time in three days, my apparently overprotective
maternal instinct screams a response that I fight to control. Bullfrog hunting? My daughter,
dark night, deep lake, bullfrogs?
I take a deep breath. "Are the rest of the kids going, hun?"
"Yup, and Louie has a net and Ellie has a flashlight and we're going to put the tadpoles in jars and see who gets the biggest one
"And who's going along?" By now she knows I mean, "Which adult agreed to supervise this adventure?"
"Louie's Dad and Janie's Mom and maybe Mr. Peters."
The clamor of yet another excited group of kids — the last one took my husband and older son trout fishing until morning — is
growing outside the cabin, eliminating all hope of a graceful denial. I notice that today I don't seem to mind so
much. Somehow, the "everyone else is going" phenomenon takes on an added dimension on a group vacation, almost like a
secret parental conspiracy.
I take another deep breath. "Okay," I manage through a half-forced smile. "But stay close to an
adult." I barely have time to grab a T-shirt full of five-year-old girl as she turns to rush out the cabin
"One second while I bug spray you, young lady." The mother in me demands some action.
As she scrunches up her nose and rotates her body slowly, like a rotisserie chicken, the clamor grows
outside. "Come on, 'Livia," we hear. "Let's goooo."
The screen door opens, and an adult head pops in. It's Louie's Dad, John, holding a formidable-looking flashlight and
sporting long khaki bermudas, tank top, and a wide-brimmed straw hat. He sees the concern on my face and the bug spray
in my hand and smiles reassuringly.
"Don't worry, Jen. We do this every year. She'll be fine."
"Yeah, well just don't let her bring any bullfrogs back here, will 'ya." My bravado does nothing to hide my worrying
He smiles that relaxed smile again and nods. "We'll be back in a couple of hours."
I give Livi a quick hug, extract another promise to stay close to the adults, and then she's gone, off to create memories that
will last far longer than my apprehension, which is quickly fading at the prospect of a couple of solitary hours reading a magazine
next to the campfire.
As she goes, I shake my head at the savvy way this group of campers has evolved over the years. The founders being
family friends, inclusion is by invitation only, meaning someone in the group trusts you enough to vouch for your fitness to watch
kids one night in the week. Preference is given to parents--no party-hardy singles scene here. And, by camping
standards, accomodations are deluxe, if a bit more expensive. At least for this week, I think to myself, so much the
That's not to say that this bunch won't stake out a tent next to a high-mountain lake for a week of trout
fishing au naturale. It's just that, once a year, they make this pilgrimage to the little lake near the big
Sequoias to relax and, well, enjoy themselves as an extended family.
As I settle down in a lawn chair with a headlamp and a copy of Architectural Digest, I realize why. Pitching a
tent at Boonies Lake with sleeping bags and Therm-a-Rests may be the prototypical camping experience, but for kid-friendly family
fun, it's tough to beat the deluxe campground.
Ours is the world-famous Lake Elowin Resort--at least that's what it says on the sign--nestled in the town of Three Rivers,
California, just a few miles from the entrance to Sequoia National Park. Gas approaches two bucks a gallon, every
convenience store sells PowerBait and Zebco rod-and-reel combos (a river does run through it), and vintage pickups cruise the
hamlet like limousines on Sunset Boulevard. My kinda town ... I think.
Cabins at the "resort" are tiny, but include a refrigerator, air conditioner, hot shower, and a hotplate, along with a
queen-sized bed — not exactly roughing i, to be sure. Some are nestled right on the edge of the "lake," which is nothing
more than a man-made swimming hole about the size of soccer field.
Nevertheless, the water is clean, refreshingly free of litter, and remains calm throughout the day. A tree-lined
vantage point along one side commands a shady view of the entire layout, swimming buoy and all. Two canoes provide the
extent of "boating" opportunities, and the only "fish" eventually grow legs, as my daughter will surely discover on her hands-on
And therein lies the beauty of the arrangement. The deluxe group camping trip delivers unexpected benefits to all
concerned. Opportunities for the kid are varied enough to fill a week of fun — from trout fishing in the river,
to swimming, to afternoon barbeque's, to ... bullfrog hunting, they never seem to get bored. Enriching the arrangement is
the shared experience of good times with good friends, something missing from family-only camping trips.
By the same token, parents have time to actually relax. To be sure, one night officiating a treasure hunt leaves you
less than refreshed, but for six other nights of the week you're free to participate, or not, in someone
else's "grand event." Not a bad deal, considering that, at least at Lake Elowin, activities usually occur within eyeshot
of the campground, a good thing for a nervous rookie like me.
So I kick up my feet on a lawn chair and tune out, looking up from the glossy-paged dreamhomes only for the occassional squeal
when a particularly large or feisty bullfrog is encountered. And a long while later, dinner and magazine thoroughly
digested, strangely pleased at the prospect of a night's sleep on a mattress rather than in a sleeping bag, I watch the cadre of
flashlights approaching from the far end of the lake. The slumped shoulders, occassional stumbles, and droopy eyelids are
the unmistakable signs of sleepy kids.
"Didja' have fun?"
Livi perks up for an instant, flashing a smile through red-tinged cheeks and sun-streaked bangs.
"Yup." A ringing endorsement from a wiped-out pre-K.
"She was great," John reports offhandedly. "No problem at all." He looks a bit done in as well.
"Thanks for watching her, John." He doesn't respond, already on his way to the next cabin, a stork delivering babies
to their mothers.
I take the ever-growing bundle of sleepy little girl in my arms, carry her into the cabin, and lay her on one side of the
queen-sized bed. I get a distant smile in response to "You get to sleep with Mama tonight." I fire up the
reading lamp, turn down the air conditioner, and consider the glow on her face from her night's adventures ...
Maybe bullfrog hunting isn't so bad after all.