Last Friday, I loaded the token suburban minivan with enough food, clothing, sunscreen and bug spray to survive in the wilderness for a year. After three summers of camping, I really should know better.
The three hour drive to Holland, Michigan from Aurora, Illinois did give me plenty of time to think about these last three years of camping adventures and the lessons I've learned as a still-novice camper.
And it all started with this Facebook note I wrote after my first ever camping trip:
"So, I survived. I'm a little dirtier, sleep deprived, and still finding sand in the strangest places, but I've learned a little more about myself and my family.
1. The family mini-van isn't as big as I think it is or it has the ability to shape-shift just to piss me off. Seriously, whenever I need to cram that sucker into a tiny crooked parking spot at the mall, it never fits and I offer amusement for any people fortunate to witness such a spectacle. I won't even mention the colorful language I use to punctuate such a feat. However, when it comes time to pack the van for camping, suddenly I can't fit half of what I need or think that I need.
2. Though it may seem as if most of my life is spent washing laundry and feeding my kids, we really don't change our clothing and eat as often as I think we do. We only used 1/2 of the clothing that I packed and only 1/3 of the food.
I brought 3 coolers and 2 plastic bins of food and drinks for not even 48 hours of camping! And in hindsight, it was rather ridiculous of me to try and stuff a beach cart, beach chairs, and sand toys into the van for only 1 planned day at the beach. It took longer to pack and haul our beach gear than time actually spent on the beach.
3. My kids are braver and more adaptable than I believe. They went camping!!! They helped pack their bags, slept in a tent next to each other, rode the sand dunes in a jeep, drove go-carts, ate 5 meals outside without once complaining about the bugs, and were very well-behaved overall.
4. I really, truly cannot sleep outside. I tried. I honestly tried to fall asleep. The kids had no problem sleeping in their cute little sleeping bag cocoons. My husband didn't have any problems sleeping in the tent either. I was a mess!
The first night, I tossed and turned for hours, fell momentarily asleep, woke up from a random noise, worried about random noise, woke up my husband to investigate possible cause of random noise, fell momentarily asleep again, woke up from the cold, heard another noise, woke up husband again, gave him a roasting fork and flashlight to protect me and the children from whatever was causing the noise and realized I was till cold ... This cycle repeated the entire night.
The second night, I read an entire book, listened to the rain and kept checking the bottom of the tent for water 'cause I was worried the kids would drown. Tent stayed dry, but I was exhausted! Once asleep, I'm sure that I would have slept until noon had it not been for those damn ravenous campground dogs.
5. The aforementioned damn dogs: They were everywhere. Not the cute, well-groomed dogs who greet me at my neighbor's door and listen to their owner's commands to stay down and stop smelling my crotch. These camping dogs were a different kind altogether. And they were scary and hungry and dirty. And they barked. A lot. Especially when I was trying to sleep. The later at night it was, the more they barked and the hungrier they sounded.
6. I should add even the most obvious items to my future camping lists. I made a very detailed, precise camping list. And just in case that list was lost, I made a duplicate checklist. I fervently studied that list. I made additional lists from the master list. I broke down all the camping errands and packing into a chart the week before our camping trip. It included everything -- except for pillows!
The Shocking Ending: I liked camping. I enjoyed spending time with my family and friends. I liked the smell of the campfire, the yummy camping food, being able to watch my kids and husband soundly sleep even though I couldn't, and even the licensed character camping site (Gotta love, Yogi!). I'll be coming back for more! All I need is a heavy flashlight, a roasting fork and my very understanding husband to protect me.
What has changed in the camping trips since then? What lessons have I learned along the way? On Friday, July 20, I'll share some tips for camping with kids and the reasons why you should do it!