Last weekend we started a new family tradition. Well, my husband has doubts about whether we’ll make camping an annual ritual, but we gave it a try this year. It was an educational trip.
Here’s what we learned:
Heed the advice about practicing tent set up before you get to the campsite. Of course, it would also help to ask questions about the tent you are borrowing. Do not assume that it will be quick and easy to set up. As it turned out, we struggled for over an hour trying to get all the tent poles in the right positions. “Just read the directions,” my sister had said. That wasn’t enough. Nor was the help from two preschoolers underfoot.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. After my husband threatened to go home if we couldn’t get the tent up, I put aside my inhibitions and asked a neighboring camper if he could help us get our borrowed tent up. An extra pair of hands was ever so helpful in positioning all the tent poles while ensuring that they stayed together long enough to get the tent upright. (And for the remainder of the trip, we reminded the boys not to touch the tent pegs or tent sides. We were fairly certain we’d never be able to get that tent up again if it collapsed.)
Start cooking before anyone is hungry. Cooking over the coals requires T-I-M-E. More time than a hungry two-year-old cares to wait. More time than a hungry four-year-old cares to wait. Especially when it involves waiting for their parents to set up a tent, but even when they’ve spent the morning swimming and playing. If you start cooking on time, your kids won’t fill up on salty snacks before the meal is ready.
Pack an infinite supply of patience. You’ll need it when it comes to bedtime – if your children are anything like ours. Our two-year-old thought the tent was a place to explore rather than sleep. He couldn’t remain in a horizontal position, even with a parent lying down next to him. About two and a half hours after his bed time he finally drifted off. Our older boy spent that amount of time repositioning his blankie and his sleeping bag, moving around to find just the right spot for sleeping. They both rose with the sun, and all attempts at getting them to nap that day were futile. Believe me. I tried for a good hour and a half.
Take it one day at time. We reserved our campsite for two nights, which was longer than anyone wanted to stay, it turned out. After an early evening swim on the second day, as we were returning to our tent site, our four-year-old pleaded with us to pack up our things and drive home. But, “We paid for two nights. We’re staying for two nights,” his daddy said.
Be flexible. Initially, I thought we should stick it out as well, but then I asked myself – and my husband – why we were insisting on another night of struggle. Everyone would sleep better and longer in their own beds. So, home we went. Maybe we should have just put the kids in the car and drove around a bit instead. Strapped in his car seat, our little one fell asleep before we even got out of the park.
Now, we have to go camping next year to put all this learning to good use. It might take that long for some of us to forget the hard parts. But not my four-year-old. The day after we returned, he declared camping was fun.