I once heard a parenting expert speak who said that it’s important for families to have a place they return to year after year. I always thought it would be lovely to spend our summers at a cabin on a lake somewhere. That wasn’t in the cards but, luckily, we were introduced to a family camp in Naramata, a tiny town in British Columbia, near Penticton.
Naramata is a jewel of a place in itself, but, for us, it’s real magic lies at the very center of town in a place aptly named Naramata Centre. The Centre was started 65 years ago when a group of United Church members decided they needed a place for people to come to reconnect with themselves and Spirit. We started attending their summer family camp when Gabriel was four so that would make it about 12 years ago. We went for a couple of years and then decided it was too expensive. Two years later, for reasons I don’t recall, we decided to save up to go again and when we gathered the first night with the rest of the community for the opening celebration, Stephen and I looked at each other and asked, “Tell me again, why we missed the last two years?”
We haven’t missed a summer since and our children have often declared that we won’t ever miss another summer. They are sixteen and thirteen now. With each passing year, the connections we make with the people and the place are deepened, just as that parenting expert said they would, and the memories are priceless.
The weather is (usually) hot and dry. There’s a labrynth to walk, a bookstore to get lost in and a beach to laze upon in the sun or in the shade of beautiful willow trees. There are cabins to stay in or you can bring along your own tent or trailer, if you prefer to camp. You can cook as much or as little as you like. This year we had breakfasts in our cabin and ate lunch and supper in the cafeteria.
I love strolling over to McClaren Hall to see what “my” cooks have prepared for me each day. Stephen loves the gatherings in front of our cabin for wine and appies before supper. The boys love the freedom to hang out with their Naramata friends and then stake out their spots at the head of the food line to gobble down their meals and then hang out with their friends some more.
This year, Jacob and his buddy divided their time between the swimming dock and the bike path. Gabriel wandered a little further with his pack of independence-seeking friends – spending hours talking and swimming and talking some more at the train dock.
I think the thing I love the most about Naramata is the opportunity, year after year, to learn something new. Each week of the summer there is a different theme and a variety of classes are offered around that theme. At first, we attended weeks that separated the adults from the kids and the kids into their different school-age groups, but for the last few years we’ve chosen the July Intergenerational Week where everyone from grades four to adult learn new things together.
This year the boys and I took a stained glass mosaic class. Here’s one of my pieces:
(I love my Turtle Dreams logo!)
Last year Stephen and the boys took a singing class together. The year before that, I took Drama, Gabriel played in a band, Jacob was in Games for all Ages and Stephen took the mornings off to rest and read. That’s another option we love: one of the adult members of a family can choose not to take a class which, we learned this year from a fellow who has mastered the art, is affectionately known as the ‘Self-Directed Class.’
Stephen and I are supposed to be taking turns doing the self-directed thing, but he loves the freedom to do absolutely nothing and I usually can’t resist learning something new: acrylic painting one year, all about mandalas and the labyrinth another year, journaling, knitting.
Other offerings include: hiking, tai chi, yoga, digital photography, pottery, drumming, canoeing, a film making class. See what I mean? How can I say ‘no’ to all these delicious choices?
There are also lovely friendships made during our Naramata week.
Our first year, Stephen and I took a couples class where we met another couple who we have reconnected with (almost) every year since. They had a son a year younger than Gabriel and the boys have developed a sweet summer friendship that has spanned twelve years. It’s always fun to see how much they’ve changed in the months between reunions . . . and how much they haven’t.
About six years ago, I recognized a woman from the school my oldest son attended when we lived in Calgary. Every year since, we’ve made sure to attend the same week. Her daughter is the same age as Gabriel and her son and Jacob are inseparable for the week.
Other friends from Didsbury started coming four or five years ago. They didn’t make it this year and it was a little lonely not to have them next door in the campground. My Calgary friend’s 16 year old daughter was also not with us, opting to work instead. It’s kind of sad to see these changes, but change is inevitable (gee, I think there’s a book out there about that very topic ; ) and our family is not immune. If Gabriel’s current plans come to fruition, next summer our family will be missing Naramata Beach for the Beaches of Normandy.
Jacob insists that we take only that one year off, but who knows what 2014 will bring?
I have a sense that our Naramata summers are gradually heading into a several year hiatus while our sons grow into young men and find their independent ways in the world. I also believe that there will come a time when we will join the many other multi-generational families that make the trek to Naramata every summer.
At least that’s the silver lining I cling to as I watch my sons prepare to leave us for their own adventures. It will be delicious to share this special place with my grandchildren some day.
But not too soon!
I can wait a loooooong time for grandchildren.