At first, you trick yourself into thinking you will still be the exploratory, spontaneous, easy-going people you were before, and maybe you are for a while. Things with one new baby was not the slap-in-the-face-change we had expected, and we found an infant to be portable, light, suited to sleeping anywhere and willing to simply join us in our day-to-day journey strapped to our chest or back. But then he started walking, talking and being a person. He had opinions, an identity and an agenda. And then we had another one of them. Slowly you transition from being two people with babies strapped to you to being four people, and as everyone knows making decisions by committee (especially when half of the committee is under four) is super hard.
So now, our greatest adventure is to go car camping for a weekend. Which we did last weekend. And that brings me to this point: camping with little kids is terrible. Here’s why.
You can plan for ten minutes or ten hours or ten days. It doesn’t matter. In the heat of the moment of packing up your car, one or more of your children will do something to distract you and you will end up leaving something crucial behind. In our case it was one mat and two sleeping bags. It could’ve been our food, or our tent poles, or anything really – but inevitably it will be something devastating that will make you consider driving home and going to Tommy K Play instead. Not to worry, we had enough to keep our kids comfy and warm, it was just Trevor and I that each had half a sleeping mat and the boys’ napping blankets to keep us warm in below freezing temperatures (on a side note, a shout out to all our friends who pitched in blankets to save our lives Friday night).
Your kids may never be clean again. Our youngest is pretty gross in the best of times (we call him double-barrel for his perpetual runny, snotty nose), but camping really pushes things to new levels. Two days and a bath later and I am still finding dirt in chubby creases, tree sap in hair and a concerning odour in all clothing worn over the weekend.
Kids are naïve to danger because we simply haven’t had the time in a few short years to explain all the world’s hazards and the nuances of staying alive, and this is especially obvious camping. Take for instance fire. They love love love it. They have no idea it is super dangerous, no idea their one wrong move could have devastating lifelong effects (or in the very least, it could really ruin their day and/or eyebrows). So you have to be vigilant EVERY SINGLE SECOND. It’s exhausting and it doesn’t end with fire because there are a lot of dangers to cover….like why bears aren’t nice in real life or why chopping wood isn’t a close spectator sport or why 2000 square foot motorhomes driving on narrow campground roads might run them over or why they shouldn’t eat those mushrooms or why that animal that looks like a dog isn’t a dog or why you can’t breathe under water in a river or why the edge of the cliff isn’t a cool place to stand or why they can’t throw logs at each other’s heads and so on.
You have a 50/50 chance of splitting up from your partner. Like being at home, there are a million tiny parenting tasks to do when camping – changing diapers, feeding them, keeping them safe (see #3), dressing them, cleaning them, helping them learn and explore. Unlike being at home, there are also a million tiny tasks that allow your family to survive: setting up shelter and tarps for the rain, blowing up sleeping pads, layering up and down for changing weather, boiling water for food, splitting wood, making a fire, keeping a fire alive, cooking on said fire and so on. You’ll find yourself trying to do it all against a big clock (literally the sun going down on you), and you’ll look around and see that your partner is missing and get riled up with visions of him leisurely strolling down a pathway sipping a coffee and enjoying the vibrant sunset and sweet sounds of nature while you’re here trying to simultaneously peg down your tent and blow up a sleeping pad with a baby on your back who is strategically positioned to aim his screams directly into your ear canal. Tip: take a deep breath and look again. Because likely your partner is returning from a gruelling trip into the deep woods to help your preschooler learn to go to the bathroom without a toilet after six months of trying to teach him how to use one AND dragging 40 pounds of firewood so your family can stay warm and eat and live through one more night. You’re in this together. You knew it would be hard. Camp on.
You will get rained on. I don’t want to blame the children for this but I remember camping pre-kids without getting rained on and I can’t recall a dry trip since they were born. I’m just saying, there seems to be a correlation and further studies should be done.
Okay, but after all that – still go camping with your little ones. Why?
They will LOVE it. I’ve never seen two boys happier than my guys stacking a pile of sticks together for hours in the rain. My oldest picked flowers and presented them to me (don’t tell the national park), pretended he lived in a wolf pack, and seriously jumped with giddy joy when the tent sprung up from our hard hard. My youngest more or less was forced to learn to walk, discovered the joy of cuddling by a fire and explored thoroughly his lifelong passions for rocks, dirt and pointing out dogs. There is a lot of laughter and excitement and general astonishment at the world when you’re camping with little ones.
They will sleep. Eventually. In a backpack carrier or in the car or in the tent or maybe just in your arms when you both think you can’t take anymore. And when they do, you’ll remember that you love it too. You’ll have a quiet moment to reflect on how remarkable it has been to introduce the outdoors to kids who live in a modern world that’s overwhelmingly safe and clean and manufactured. You’ll pause to sit with your friends (some going through the same kid-camping agony you are and some not) and cherish the conversations and jokes with people you love and don’t get to see near enough. You’ll feel gratitude for all your partner does and share a laugh that this ridiculous undertaking is your new version of adventure. You’ll breathe clean air and look up to a star-filled sky and be grateful for moments like this outside of your day-to-day lives. Probably then you’ll hear crying and curse-stumble through the dark to your tent to explain to your three-year-old that you don’t have lotion to soothe his forearm that “feels a little sore,” but just take what you can get.
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