First-time Camping With the Family: A Summer Vacation I Will Never Forget

Oh my, was I excited to go on my first camping trip with my family! And sure, it might seem crazy to take a 3-year-old, 5-year-old, a 6-month-old puppy, a pregnant woman and one sane man camping, but I had a great attitude.

I was prepared for sun, bugs, campfires, and insatiable pregnant cravings. I had extra shorts and back up tank tops for all the days spent basking on the warm beach.

The weather during the drive up to Door County, Wisconsin tried to break our spirit. My husband, Peter, drove with the skill of a seasoned pop-up trailer driver through a few storms as I passed back snacks and played DJ, switching out cd’s for my cooperative audience. Who needs a DVD player in the car? We were going to road-trip-it old school style!

Six hours later we arrived in Fish Creek, cheering as we entered Peninsula State Park, ready to set up camp.

So what if it was raining? No problem. I have camped in the rain before, as long as you stay positive, everything will be alright. Besides, I had my brand new Coleman ponchos in assorted colors to shield my family from the elements!

As my confident camping partner maneuvered the trailer into our temporary wooded home, the children were already talking about roasting marshmallows.

Their innocence didn’t realize we would not be able to rev up a fire in the rain.

I would not let this get me (or them) down, I thought. I have to stay positive and it will rub off on them.

“Hey, guys,” I said, as I clapped my hands together like a over-caffeinated cheerleader, “It looks like it’s raining outside, so we are going to have to wait until the rain stops.”

I had regressed into an amatuer parent and assumed my small children had concept of time. Strike one-mom.

“What? NO! I wanna make marshmallows!” said 5-year-old Raymond.

Reloading my comeback gun, I responded,

“Yes, we will be able to make marshmallows, but first, we need to set up our camper and pick our beds. Who wants to find their extra special beds? Do you want to sleep with mama or daddy? Where do you think Cooper will sleep?”

My slightly desperate attempt at distraction worked and the children began to talk about their sleeping bags and new special beds.

I hopped out of the car eager to avoid a meltdown about the fire and found my rock, my faithful and camp-worthy husband struggling with one of the pop-up camper beds.

“No worries,” I thought. “It’s our first time setting this up, so let’s take it slow (in the rain) and work together.”

Our rain ponchos were stashed deep within the heart of the trailer, so we had to face the rain unprotected. As I zipped up the sides of our fabric house, I realized I hadn’t eaten in 10 minutes and my mind took me to a Chinese Restaurant where I indulged momentarily in some fried rice and egg rolls.

“Elizabeth? Elizabeth!” my husband said through my fogged over and drenched glasses. “Are you okay?”

I shook my head, “Yes, I am just hungry.”

I must admit, I was a little demoralized by the rain. But the fact that everyone in my camp had been such good sports, motivated me to muster a smile.

As our fabric foundation took form, the children sat on their beds smiling and clapping, excited for this new adventure. Peter and I, no longer speaking, were on a mission: Get the camper up and mentally will the rain to stop.

The rain did stop temporarily and we hit town to find food, even though I had packed enough to feed the whole campground. Ravenous, we all wanted food- NOW.

We ordered takeout from a splendid establishment called, Wild Tomato, and I realized for the first time during this pregnancy I would be embracing meat for the second trimester. I scanned the menu and wanted one of everything. I wanted the artichoke dip and a grilled salmon sandwich and a whole pizza. I settled for one order of battered chicken tenders, the Caprese salad, and a Cowboy Burger for Peter.

Skipping back to the camp site, I saw Peter had lit up a fire long enough to make a “do not go passed this circle around the camp fire or you will be burned” line in the soggy dirt and roast one marshmallow. The kids retreated back to the camper annoyed and dissapointed at the rain.

I sat at our booth styled table loving the fact that the restaurant had provided me with several battered chicken tenders and wished I hadn’t offered to share my Caprese salad with Peter as I wanted to gobble it up by myself. Sweet food!

Collapsing into bed at 9 p.m. sounded like a good idea, so we hunkered down and listened to the rain drops pelt the roof of our camper. We were all tired and wet, but ready to take on the bright sunny day ahead of us!

Day 2 consisted of rain. Well, not at first. It was really, really misty and as I greeted my fellow camping ladies in the community bathroom, I realized I had committed my first camping in Wisconsin faux pas. I wore a Bears sweatshirt.

One eye roll and a low, “Good Morning” later, I smiled extra bright and knew today would be different. After all, I had purchased a sun tent for the beach and a new bathing suit for myself.

As I pushed a button in the shower to trigger the hot water (every 45 seconds, by the way) I lathered up knowing I would be up to my ears in sunshine and warm weather.

I emerged ready to slip into my 2 piece maternity suit and was greeted by the slow trickle of rain. One, two, three drops taunted me as the morning rain dripped on my glasses.

My steps quickened as I hurried back to our site. I needed my rock, my confidant, my friend who would shake me out of my mini panic attack.

As I reached our camper, I heard the voice of my husband,

“You guys have to talk quietly here. There are people still sleeping, We cannot scream and talk loudly like we do at home.”

I entered the camper and gazed into the sleepy eyes of my unshaven husband.

“I am growing a beard this week,” he announced.

The rest of the day was very reminiscent of the day before. Rain, soggy shoes, a glimmer of sunshine for an hour and then rain. But, by golly, we were going to have a good time!

Skipping rocks on the beach in the foggy mist of the afternoon, a drive to get frozen custard, another attempt at making a camp fire. We visited a local dairy and watched cows being milked.

After many attempts at getting the children to be happy with our surroundings and embrace the weather, my son plainly said,

“It’s so different here.”

I was taken aback. Why, yes, it was different there. And what did we expect from a 3-year-old and 5-year-old who had only slept in their comfy beds under a stable roof before? All of this was new to my little children.

That was the moment when my husband and I realized we couldn’t force a good time. Not that we weren’t having a good time, rather, we couldn’t understand why the kids just wouldn’t go with the flow of the trip.

Well, duh! They are 3 and 5 for goodness sake! By our 3rd day, we looked at each other, and the 5 day forecast, and decided to come home.

As we left the peninsula, we stopped so I could feed the pregnancy beast I had become.  

“Fish”, I said, “I want fried fish.”

My husband laughed and observed that this pregnancy was different as I was a “healthy eater” during my last two pregnancies.

Six hours later we reached our home and tucked the kids snuggly into their own beds.

The rest of our vacation was spent visiting local museums and hanging out in our own back yard. As the week came to a close, I realized I need to be mindful of what small children can handle. What I consider old-hat and familiar, may be jarring and a little confusing for my kids.

All and all, what a lovely vacation!

Where did you take your small kids on vacation? Was it a success?


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  • You are a brave woman! I wouldn't attempt such and adventure unless I knew copious amounts of wine were waiting for me at the campfire.
    Let me just say this about kids and vacations--you really haven't lived until your toddler has thrown up on an airplane with 2 and a half hours left to go. Total panic time!

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