The Manning Mama

That time I woke up in the middle of woods


Ah, summer is upon us—the season of sun, s’mores, and, for many parents, a little slice of nostalgia known as summer camp. As the school year wraps up and the kids pack their bags for a few weeks of mosquito-ridden bliss, I can’t help but reminisce about my own summer camp days. Buckle up, folks, because today I’m sharing a classic tale of 90s parenting fails that could only be topped by the wildest campfire stories.

Picture this: I’m in 5th grade, sporting a green sash covered in merit badges that, in retrospect, I’m not sure I entirely earned. My mom, the ever-dedicated Troop Leader, decided that nothing would be more character-building than taking our Girl Scout troop camping for a long weekend. Naturally, my stepdad and a couple of other brave parents were roped into this expedition.

Our campsite was at the end of a scenic trail, with the bathhouse inconveniently located at the beginning of said trail. After a day filled with Girl Scout activities—earning our knot-tying badge, roasting marshmallows, and probably terrorizing local wildlife—we finally crashed well after midnight. Little did anyone know; the real adventure was just beginning.

Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, I "woke up" to find myself on a picnic bench outside the bathhouse. Y’all, I had sleepwalked my way down the entire trail and was blissfully snoozing in the great outdoors. Now, "waking up" is a generous term because I was still very much in a daze. Dreamily convinced that I had been on that bench so long that the trail had grown over, I stumbled straight into the woods like a miniature horror movie character.

By the time I fully snapped out of my sleepwalking stupor, I was truly lost. In the pitch-black night, I could hear my parents chatting and laughing around their campfire. Given their apparent obliviousness, I assume they were enjoying a drink or two, entirely unaware that their asthmatic daughter was on a barefoot midnight hike. 

Naturally, my response was to start screaming my tail off. As a daughter, the image of my mother casually sipping a beer when my piercing scream shot out somewhere from the trees makes me giggle. As a mother, y’all, I would’ve needed fresh underwear.

After some panicked yelling back and forth, my stepdad found me. Channeling his inner Kevin Costner from "The Bodyguard," he swooped in, lifted me into his arms, and carried me back to the tent. Heroic, right? Well, it was, but it seems this one night of impromptu bed-hopping was more than my parents could handle.

Determined to prevent any more nocturnal escapades, they devised a plan that, in hindsight, was equal parts clever and mildly traumatizing. They found a rope and tied my wrist to my best friend’s cot. Yes, folks, if I was going to take a midnight stroll, my enlisted night watchman and her entire bed were coming with me.

The next two nights were uneventful, at least for me. However, I’m pretty sure my poor friend, who was a serious and somewhat anxious soul, didn’t get a wink of sleep for the rest of the trip. Despite this rather unconventional solution, my mom still swears that the rope was a stroke of parenting genius.

This story has since become a beloved family legend, one of those tales that gets trotted out at gatherings to equal parts laughter and groans. And every summer, as I pack my own kids off to camp, I remind myself that no matter what mishaps may occur, they’re just creating the stories they’ll tell their own kids someday.

So, here’s to summer camp, 90s parenting fails, and all the kids out there making memories, whether they know it or not. Just remember to tie a rope around your wrist... or, you know, maybe just invest in a good GPS tracker. Happy camping!