September 24, 2015

Backyard Survivor

When we were newlyweds, Eric and I started watching the tv show Survivor together. I guess you could say we are big fans now because we have seen nearly every episode. There are a lot of things I love about the show, and some I don't like it, and we keep watching season after season. One time Eric even downloaded the application to apply to be on the show. I don't think he filled it out at all, but let's just say it's been a little speck of a dream floating around for one of us to be a contestant (which could never be me because I am a wuss in general, plus I could never go even a day with such limited food so by default it is my dream for Eric to compete). And since Eric going on Survivor is not really a reality for us, I am doing what any mom would do--train up my children to be future contestants.

Well, it didn't really start that way. At the end of the spring sometime, we were sitting as a family around the dinner table and for some reason we joked that the boys would have to go live outside in the backyard all summer. The seed was planted and the idea was born to have Backyard Survivor Week. 

We came up with the plan and the rules. For one week during the summer, the boys would survive in our backyard. They could only come in the house to use the bathroom. They could have a tent, sleeping bag, pillow, one change of clothes or swimsuit, a notebook or journal, a pen, and scriptures. They did not have access to bikes, balls, toys, etc. in the garage (until they earned it in a challenge during the week). They each got a waterbottle that they could refill as needed. They were given a container of food to share and use at their own discretion. They were given a few utensils and plates. They were in charge of their own breakfast and lunch, but dinner would be provided for them by me. They had to tell me if they wanted to leave the backyard so I knew where they were. If I needed them to babysit or to come with us somewhere they were granted temporary timeout on the rules. There would be challenges randomly throughout the week in which they could earn rewards.

I had hopes and goals for my boys. I wanted them to be bored. Really good and bored. I wanted them to be creative. I wanted them to relax and enjoy this time in nature and build forts and explore. I wanted them to be more grateful for what they have and recognize what they really need. I wanted them to feel independent, grown up, and strong. I wanted to stay as hands off as possible (this was the hardest thing for me to do!).  

The boys were excited and anticipated the days they would be left to "survive". I'm not entirely sure what they expected and envisioned and hoped to get out of the experience. For some reason, I don't think their hopes were quite the same as my hopes. I think they saw it as a fun adventure and a chance to be on their own, to make their own rules, to earn donuts, and to get out of chores.

They had so much enthusiasm about Survivor week that they convinced two friends to join them. One friend came in and out as he could, sleeping over a few times and joining in on a few challenges. The other friend followed the same rules as we did, spent most of his time with the boys, but slept in a tent in his own backyard.

On day one, the boys were given the food that should last them though the week. They got half a jar of peanut butter, two loaves of bread, 4 granola bars, a can of pineapples, half a bag of raisins, a small bowl of tomatoes form our garden, and one pack of crackers. That was their breakfast, lunch, and snacks.  

I don't think they ever did use the plates I gave them. And I don't think they ever washed the peanut butter knife, besides licking it. (Do you see why I said it was so hard for me to stay hands off?? I wanted to jump in and take over how they rationed, how they cleaned, etc. Well, I did eventually tell them they had to close the peanut butter jar and that they had to pick up after themselves in the backyard or no more challenges. . .)

They were not given any challenges that first day. I wanted them to get bored and figure things out themselves. They spent nearly all of the day like this in the hammocks:

They did go across the street and pick blackberries that day to conserve their rations. They, also, made up songs and played a few games. But mostly they just stayed there in those hammocks in pretty good spirits. Though about two hours in, Kyler told me he was bored (What? Already?? haha). And Collin told me Survivor was just playing in the backyard for a really long time without toys. That summed it up pretty well. ;)

They rotated between sleeping in the hammocks and on the trampoline all week. The last night (when they were completely exhausted!) they finally slept in the tent.

We had reward challenges throughout the week. I think I organized two on the second day, but on the 4th day these boys were feeling it so we increased rewards to three or four that day. The challenges were varied. They were either individual, teams of two, or whole group. We had some great lessons on good sportsmanship, let me tell you. Some of the rewards won were chocolate milk and cookies, a shower and fresh clothes, wood and tools for building, choosing one thing out of the garage to play with the rest of the week (basketball and bikes), popcorn and m&ms, and access to the chicken eggs and cooking them in the house.

I tried to balance the activities between physical, endurance, and using your head. So they had to do things like hold a cup of water above their head the longest,

play a memory game (I held up 7 tiles and they had to remember them and then they had to show the sequence back to me with their set of tiles),

a relay race to fill up a bucket of water the fastest with a soaker ball,

balancing one foot on a can,

and trampoline jumping contests.

On the last day we also hid a watermelon in the yard. We told them if they could find it, they could eat it. Adrienne and I found a good spot for it.

I eventually took pity on those "starving" boys and gave them a hint to help them find it.

Eric let them start a fire one night and roast marshmallows.

 They also spent lots of time at Caleb's house in his backyard. We took turns feeding the boys dinner and giving challenges. It was so nice for me to work with his mom to give the boys this Survivor experience. We did a lot of making things up as we went along, but it came together.

So what started as a silly idea turned into a plan which became a week I don't think these boys will soon forget.

Were all of my hopes and goals achieved during the week? I'd say so. Yes, the boys got bored. very bored. There were some pretty creative moments because of it. They did a lot of relaxing. I think they learned a lot about rationing and working together. I'm guessing they learned to appreciate things a little more judging by their excitement and readiness to be back indoors and into their own beds at the end of the week. I am so very glad we did this.

But oh how they were exhausted by the end of the week! Physically and emotionally drained. You could see it in their eyes, their energy level, and their moods. So I don't think it was quite as "fun" and exciting as they had imagined it would be, but it was good nonetheless. I know they were proud of themselves for sticking it out and surviving. My boys were ready to give up that last night, but with just a little encouragement they stuck it out until Friday.

Let me also say, I was glad to see the week come to end for three reasons. One, I missed having my boys in the house with me! So much. I missed their presence in our home. Two, the whole week I kept thinking about the book "The Lord of the Flies". Which I actually haven't read all the way through, only bits and pieces for a political science class once. But four boys living on their own and surviving in the wilderness of the backyard? For some reason, that book kept popping into my head. Three, the backyard was a disaster. It looked just like four boys had been living in it! Oh wait. There were clothes hanging up everywhere and strewn all over the backyard. There were food wrappers and messes all over. Sleeping bags were spread out all over the place. It looked very similar to the boys' bedroom upstairs. Oh wait. Yeah, I was ready to get the backyard back into order (really are backyard isn't very orderly and neat to begin with so that should give you and idea of how run over it was).

After four nights and five days, we had three amazing little Survivors! We celebrated on Friday with doughnuts and candy bars and juice. These boys are tough and strong. Give them a few years and you may seem them on tv outlasting, outwitting, and outplaying on the real Survivor. 

Layla and Perry were dying all week to join in the backyard camping fun. Eric promised them a night in the tent Friday night. It just so happened to be the only night it rained, but Layla and Eric stuck it out until morning. Survivors in their own right!