I took the kids camping. All three of them. I knew I was outnumbered, but I’ve been wanting to try it for a while.
I camped a lot when I was young. I think this was partly because my parents are adventurous souls and partly because we were poor. Well, I thought we were. Turns out it wasn’t so much that we were poor as much as my parents were saving all their pennies so they could retire twenty years earlier than most and go on more adventures. We don’t have camping stories in our family; we have camping legends. The kind that are brought up at the rowdier family get-togethers. The kind that are a little embarrassing to some or all of the parties involved. The kind that make my childhood seem pretty awesome. One of my personal favorites is when it was so cold, my dad stuffed newspapers into our sleeping bags, turned on a kerosene heater, and then closed us up tight as sardines in our tent. Luckily, before he drifted off to a very heavy and long slumber, he realized that this particular chemical reaction was not in his family’s best interest. Fresh air does wonders for cognitive function. There was the trip where my folks loaded up a toddler, a preschooler, and a brand-new puppy into the first of several of our Volkswagen campers and headed north. We camped and hiked across Canada. Not the whole country, just most of it. Or at least that’s how I remembered it. If time could be measured by the number of times I sang “Where, oh where, has my little dog gone?” while riding on my dad’s shoulders, it was an epic journey. I believe that was the same outing when my father may or may not have gotten into some trouble with the border patrol over a partially concealed weapon. It was the wilderness, people. There are bears out there. At least that’s how the story legend goes.
So, I took the kids camping. At a music festival.
Though I had help setting up my camp (two tents because, it turns out, the four of us no longer fit into one), it was a bit exhausting. There were two tarps, two tents, four sleeping bags, two blankets, three pillow pets, four flashlights, a backpack (with emergency diapers to spare), and non-perishable groceries to last us through the winter. I ended up hauling all this gear from my car, through what can best be described as a swamp, up a ridge to my campsite. Felt like twenty trips. I think it was really five.
My oldest daughter, who enjoys my attention like most people enjoy air, was by my side the whole way. I think she may have carried her own pillow pet, but she mostly wanted to chat about all the things she wanted us to do together. “Can we go the festival now? Can you come with me? I want to buy one of those wiggly snakes I bought last year. You know, the one I lost the next day? Are the rope swings still there? Are my friends here yet? Did you bring any food that I like? How long until our tent is ready? I want to put my pillow pet in there…are you listening to me?” As they say in the south, bless it. I love my sweet, smart, sensitive six-year-old girl, but she does wear a body out.
Her twin brother is quite the opposite. He is going through a phase right now where he does not want to want me. He has discovered and embraced all things boy. He bare-knuckle fights with his friends while laughing hysterically. He is a little, shall we say obsessed, with video games. All video games. He can somehow locate a video game where I previously did not know one existed. He avoids me right after school these days because he already knows he’s going to get my disappointed look when he realizes that he has lost his brand-new blue sweatshirt, his lunchbox, his library book, and even his shoes once. We are definitely trying to figure out how to communicate in new ways that don’t frustrate us both. When we arrived at the camp site, I saw the back of his head as he ran down the trail with his tow-headed friend toward the tree fort. He left his shoes behind. I didn’t see him again for six hours. This made me sad. But, he was having fun and, hey, that’s what this whole trip was supposed to be about.
Meanwhile, my agreeable two year old sat closeby on a stump reciting her ABC’s and twirling her pigtails.
Throughout the day, these trends continued. Poppy wanted (more) money to buy a glowing festival ball; Charlie managed to cover the contents of (my) tent in mud when he went foraging for a granola bar. Poppy frequently asked how many hours, exactly, we had left before we had to go home the next day; Charlie made weapons out of sticks.
At the end of an exhausting day, I was surprised that everyone was so agreeable about diving into their sleeping bags at regular bed time. Tired is tired. The twins shared one of the tents and the baby and I made our nest in the other one two feet away. After the usual festival noise died down after midnight, I finally drifted off to sleep. I awakened with the first crack of lightning that temporarily blinded me. Then the roll of thunder. A storm. Oh…good. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Nope, not supposed to. But it was happening. And boy did it happen. After the third of fourth split of lightning, I heard the first cry. It was Charlie.
“Mommy? Mommy! Where are you!? I can’t find you. Are you there?” I quietly assured him that I was right next door and that everything was going to be OK. He was not convinced.
“Can I…come over there? Can I sleep with you?” I could hear the desperation in his voice.
After several frantic minutes of trying to unzip the tent, the fly, the other fly, and the other tent, I fetched the boy, carried him through the downpour, and brought him into my nest. The baby awakened only briefly to comment, “It’s loud in my ears.” Once we were situated in our damp pile, Charlie burrowed his head in the crook of my arm. He whispered, “Thanks, Mom. I love you.” I treasured it. It was my sweet boy again, stripped from his bravado, needing his mama.
I worried about Poppy in the lonely tent. I called to her, but she was soundly sleeping. I could even hear her rhythmic breathing in between the thunder claps. (She has a bit of a cold.) I asked her in the morning how in the world she could have slept through that storm. She said, “I woke up but I wasn’t scared. I knew you were right on the other side of my tent.” She sounded confident and self assured. She didn’t, in fact, need me to weather the storm. Though I missed snuggling with her, I was happy that she was able to breathe without me.
When the rain finally stopped, we emerged from our tents to find a soggy mess. Charlie plopped into the mud up to his ankles and slogged down the trail until he found his friend. They raced to the tree fort. Poppy, who was already dressed and even had on her shoes, daintily and cheerfully padded over to my tent. “Good morning, Mommy. What are we having for breakfast? Can you walk with me to the bathroom? Do you want to put on your baseball cap now? I think you could really use it. Have you seen my wooden snake and glowing festival ball?” The baby yawned. Back to normal.
As I broke down and hauled the two tents, the two tarps, the two blankets, the four sleeping bags, the pillow pets, the backpack, and the mostly uneaten groceries through the frosting-like mud back to the car, I realized the trip was worth it. I think we all got exactly what we needed.