Camping with kids: the circle of life

We are planning a camping trip with the kids and it reminded me of this post that I wrote last year for my personal blog. So, sure, it’s a bit of a rerun, but every word is still completely true. Besides, I don’t have time to write a post. I have to perfect my swear word combinations before we hook up the camper.

We took the kids camping this summer. I haven’t done much camping in my adult life due to my inability to develop a talent for sleeping on the ground. And it is a talent, I can only assume, given that other camping people don’t seem to end up sleeping in puddles at 3 a.m. or have boulders rise up out of the ground to stab them in the shoulder despite the tent area being a smooth sea of cushy grass at set-up time. Clearly, there is some sort of genetically-linked gift (strategically placed fat pockets?) that allow some people (the power of slight, unconscious levitation?) to sleep comfortably on the ground (bones that rubberize after dark? Internalized water repelling capabilities?). I don’t have that gift. I hate sleeping on the ground.

Despite this, when I think of my childhood, the times spent crammed into a tiny camper, eating Dinty Moore beef stew and roasting marshmallows, take up a surprising amount of memory space considering we only went for a week or two per year. Sometimes we took an old Army tent instead of the camper and I can bring to mind the exact smell of that damp canvas, the ring of the metal poles as they clanked together in their bag, the feel of grit under my sleeping bag.

In contrast, I remember nothing about my entire second grade year. Not a thing. It’s a complete blank.

Anyway, given the importance that camping memories have for me, it was clear that I would need to find a way to take my kids off into the wild. And that way would have to keep me off the ground. And because we are still building out house, that way would have to be justifiably cheap. These conditions puzzled us for a while, but then we learned some friends were selling their pop-up camper. Have you experienced the wonder of the pop-up? It’s got the “roughing it” feel of a tent, but with beds. Beds that are a good five feet off the ground. Could anything be more perfect? Needless to say, we snapped that up.

Like other events on the child-adult experience divide (*cough* Christmas *cough*), once you cross to the other side you suddenly realize that things don’t just…happen like they did when you were kid. You don’t just “go camping” like I remembered. Before the camping part there is the buying and the cleaning and the packing and the sorting and the winnowing and reminding and the reserving and the panicking and the frantic searching and the testing and the hooking up and the driving and the unpacking and the…well. You probably get the point. It wasn’t how I remembered it.

Except for the part where “I just need to hook up the trailer and we can go. It will only take a minute” turns into an hour of sweating, swearing, debating, cajoling, wrestling, banging, finally connecting, and “Oh, dang, the lights don’t work. What should we do? Just drive carefully?” That part was EXACTLY how I remembered it.

Other things were how I remembered them, as well. We went to Cobscook Bay State Park, which I tented in once, many moons ago, before I was married. (On that trip my air mattress collapsed and I lay on a rock all night while listening to a raccoon paw at our cooler of food. See? No sleeping-on-the-ground talent.) My mother insists we went there when I was a kid, too, but I have no memory of that. In truth, I probably do have memories of it, but it’s just blurred into all the other state parks we’d camped in through the years. When we arrived, it was like a sudden time warp back to my childhood. Same pine needles, same pit toilets, same initials carved into the picnic table shelters, same regulation state park brown paint slapped on every wooden surface. These state parks. They never change. They exist outside of time. They are stable and eternal. They are wonderful.

It was a successful trip, but not perfect. We went fishing. We traipsed around back roads. We foraged some of our food–clams, mushrooms, berries, fish.  We washed dishes outside. The kids seemed to fight more than I remember fighting with my sisters (can you hear my mother laughing?), my son came down with a virus and didn’t sleep well, and I had to take my daughter on a middle-of-the-night run to the pit toilets where I heard something large breathe right next to me. It poured torrentially our first night and, while the camper didn’t leak, that unpleasant, musty dampness hung on. But I didn’t mind, what with being five feet off the ground.

On the morning we left I spent some time snuggled with my daughter on her bunk, looking out at the carpet of pine needles to the ocean beyond. “I really like this, Mom,” she said. “Do we really need to go? Can we do it again?”

Yep. We can absolutely do it again.

camping

Cherie Galyean

About Cherie Galyean

In a perfect world, Cherie Galyean would spend hours every day chasing her kids up hiking trails, pretending to garden, and baking things. Instead, she works full-time in the non-profit sector and fits those other things in-between loads of laundry in her free time. A Maine native with multiple hometowns, she currently lives on Mount Desert Island with her husband, seven-year-old daughter, five-year-old son, and the best shelter mutt in the world.