Friday, May 30, 2014

Turning My Tent Upside-Down: A Lesson in Camping with Kids

Some families do Disney. Some do Hilton Head or Daytona Beach. Others jet across an ocean because they have the funds (bless them, oh Lord, for I am jealous). Then there are families that camp.

Camping is not for everyone. Sometimes it's a harrowing experience with more dirt and bugs than you can shake a stick at. Other times you walk into a deluge meant only for Noah. Laying on the ground isn't for everyone. But for some, it is the piece de resistance. My childhood was full of that resistance. 

There were multiple summers where we packed our Honda Civic wagon to the ceiling and drove across the country, camping the whole way. A cooler wedged in the middle of the back seat was the only thing separating my sister from myself. But the cooler was narrower than my arm, so it was useless in stopping any fights that involved hitting, poking, or pinching.

Most mornings we would pack up camp and drive for 8-10 hours, only to stop by dinner time and set up camp again. Everything in the car had a place, that had a smaller place in which the place would be set in order to make room for the next place. There was order to the order and it was beautiful. I credit it all to my dad, but I'm sure mom helped. (I love you mom. You make great sandwiches.) We rolled our clothing into tiny cylinders so that we could squeeze as many outfits as possible into the small duffle bags that held our lives for more than a month. Dinners were cooked over a Coleman stove, and lunches were always packed in the morning for quick an easy disbursement at noon. A well-oiled machine people. Clockwork.

It may not sound super appealing to you, but the memory of these trips has reached sainthood in my mind. And so, with that tucked away in my adolescent brain, I grew up and had children of my own. And what better thing to do with five children than go camping? Stay home, you say? Not a chance.

Planning- a.k.a. the part where you are blissfully unaware of reality

Seeing as how I was a child when I was little, I didn't really have an insiders view of the preparations for camping. I saw the results, but not the process that led up to it. With that skewed vision in mind, I began to plan our Grand Memorial Day Camping Adventure. I made lists. I love them, and they make me inexplicably happy. Kind of like straight lines in mown grass. Lists of food. Lists of things to do. Lists of super important, don't you dare forget this because this is the most essential item when camping, kinds of things. 


Packing- a.k.a. the part where you realize just how much your lists have on them

There are seven people in our family. That is a lot of sleeping bags. Two tents. A lot of pillows. It is a lot of shirts, shorts, towels, underwear, teddy-bears, toothbrushes and diapers. When we bought our wonderful mini-van, we did not think ahead like smart people do, and got a not-so-grand caravan. That means that the packing space in the trunk is deep enough for a grocery bag. Maybe a couple of raisins. 


Once we were squeezed into our spaces like toothpaste, we made the trek across the state to the campground. Our site was directly across from the playground. Thank you, Lord, and Amen. The kids played in the sandy Michigan dirt while Adam set up camp. Dinner was late and crazy. Ramen with veggies. And all of a sudden it was dark, so off to sleep we went. 

Just kidding. Adam in one tent with four children, and me in the other with the one that cries and wakes up an average of 5 times a night. No sleep.

Breakfast- a.k.a. the meal that should inspire a camper to climb mountains, or at least trade legos

Bacon. Eggs. Poptarts.
Two parts iconic, one part reality.
Oh, and coffee. (See, "no sleep" above)

We spent the next two days boating, fishing, swimming. All on whims. No plans, just wake up and be

It. Messed. With. My. Head.

What about my lists?

What about the meal planning that I did?

How is this going to be EPIC if it doesn't go like I planned?

The moment of truth came our third night there. I had packed our super awesome ice cream making balls, and all the pre-measured ingredients in little zip-loc baggies to make some deliciousness. While the kids were boating/playing/fishing, I got them set up. Salt and ice in one end, and cream and sugar in the other. The time comes to roll the balls and there is not a child to be found. I spy one across the playground. Even before he's in earshot he starts yelling a question about going to play a game. He can clearly see the big red ice cream balls under my arms. He does not want to do the quintessential camp thing that I planned. He wants to play


But mom, can't I just go play and then come back when it's ready?



No. If you go play now, you will come back and watch us eat ice cream. And I will eat it slowly and make lots of good food noises so that you are certain to regret your decision to go have fun and leave me with all the work. Shake. A. Ball.

(Somewhere in my planning, I forgot to check how long the process takes. Fatal mistake.) 

Mom, is the ice cream ready yet?


How long does it take?

It it takes!

How long is that?

*flames...on the side of my face*

In the end, I sent them all off to play while I finished making what ended up being sweet cream shakes. When they came back to enjoy the fruit of my labor, the baby was eating dirt, the mosquitoes were attacking, and the mountain of camping dishes to be done before bed was literally falling off the picnic table. At some point, Adam disappeared into the van for three minutes...just to sit...away from the insanity. 

Darkness could not fall soon enough.

As I lay in my sleeping bag, cursing myself and regretting the crazy rabid mama that I had become that evening, I began to think a bit more about the perfection that I had failed to achieve. My memories of camping as a child are so gilded and perfect. I don't know what work went into creating those memories. I don't know if my parents were stressed out trying to do that with us. I don't even know if the memories that I have are fully accurate. I may have created things just to match the emotional euphoria that is etched in my heart from those trips. 

But looking back, it wasn't the meals or the detailed planning that made me love those trips. It was the moments. Snapshots in time. Family intimacy in God's great big beautiful creation. Bugs and all. 

My kids had spent the weekend wallowing in each of those delicious snapshots. Writing those memories into their little souls as beautiful, fun and good. They were seizing the day while I was worrying about planning for the next great memory. 

*face palm*

It really was an absolutely, fantastic weekend. And in spite of my obsessive tendencies, the kids deemed it the best. weekend. ever. Adam and I came out alive, and know for certain that we'll do it again.

 In fact, we've already started planning...