I married into a family that camps. This was not made clear to me before vows were exchanged. In fact, we didn’t start the Hanlon Family Campout until my husband and I were married for nearly 10 years and had three children. At first, I thought it was a one-time event, but then it became an annual tradition. It rains almost every year, air mattresses deflate and the we won’t even discuss the washrooms. But it has become a cherished family event filled with adventure.
Camping weekends involve a host of outdoor activities. We hike, bike, kayak, whitewater raft, do yoga, rock climb and rappel. I’ve always considered packing an adventurous activity, as there was the year my suitcase didn’t make into the car and the time the jogging stroller (almost) fell off the roof. Fun fact – You can outfit yourself for a weekend in the woods at Dollar General. Other Fun Fact – Standing on the roof of your minivan adjusting bikes and jogging strollers will attract attention.
We did all of this with our three kids, including Sean, our youngest, who had severe cerebral palsy. Sean was just like any other kid in many ways, but his care needs were significant. He used a wheelchair for mobility, ate by feeding tube and was non-verbal. None of this stopped him from enjoying the Hanlon Campout – it just added to the adventure.
Hiking – we’d strap him to our backs, literally. Until he was 14, we were carrying him in an oversized carrier; then opted for a jogging stroller. Biking – a specialized bike with a wheelchair up front and bike seat for me in the back. Kayaking and rafting – a supportive seating unit helped him stay upright. Yoga was easy – roll out a mat. He did pass on rock climbing and rappelling, but that was mostly because he was recovering from surgery that year. None of this was easy, It required extra effort, planning and muscle, but the alternative of Sean not being in on these activities didn’t appeal to us.
Sean soaked up the cousin camaraderie on these trips. He was part of the grilling crew, guardian of the cheeseballs, in on every game and campfire. He was part of the action because his siblings and cousins made it so.
He delighted in going back to school on Monday and sharing with his classmates his tales of adventure. There was always a story of how the kayak almost tipped, the tent filled with rain or the car wouldn’t start. Ramp access vans are notorious for battery issues. Nothing says adventure like being in rural areas with a dead battery and limited cell service.
This is the year of firsts for our family without Sean. His passing last August took us all by surprise and we’re still finding out way. Not only are my husband, my children and I missing Sean, his Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents and cousins are as well. I was seeking a way to honor his spirit this year.
Knowing how important this family time and sense of adventure was to Sean, his beloved teacher brought the theme “Say YES to Adventure” to life. We have t-shirts with the saying and Sean’s initials – it’s a reminder that Sean always said “yes”. This year at camping, there were thirty of us sporting our bright green shirts honoring Sean as we headed to kayak and raft. Did my kayak tip? Yes. Did I have fun? You bet. Adventure isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth the effort. Strap on a helmet, secure your Personal Floatation Device, use an extra bungee cord for the stuff on the roof and get out there. Say “YES”.