Recently my family and I went camping. As I prepared for our trip, I felt my usual pre-camping excitement while at the same time my usual pre-camping dread.
If given a choice between sleeping in a tent or in a house I will always prefer the house. This doesn’t mean I don’t ever choose the tent because I like being with my family and I will choose them over comfort…usually.
Before we left, my husband said something that made me think a bit deeper about my dread of camping. He labeled my feelings about sleeping in a tent as “tent anxiety”. I realized that this is a very adequate description of my feelings. I do feel anxious about sleeping in a tent. What if the kids are too cold? What if they’re too hot? What if they have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night? (How would I wash a wet sleeping bag in the forrest?) What if our air mattress leaks air? What if it rains and the tent leaks? What if we track in dirt? (I know, a ridiculous concern when camping.) What if it’s so uncomfortable I can’t sleep at all and have to go three days with three kids and no sleep? And there’s the word that explains my “tent anxiety”: uncomfortable.
Pair that with “inconvenient” and it pretty much sums up the negative feelings I have about camping.
And yet, when people ask if I like camping I’ll always say yes. Why? Because I actually do. I’ve always liked it. Especially as a kid.
So, after having this mini epiphany regarding my camping concerns I decided to determine exactly what I liked so much about camping as a kid and make sure I incorporated that into our upcoming trip.
Number one thing I loved about camping as a kid? Our pop up camper.
Well now, there’s the problem…I didn’t camp in a tent as a kid.
I loved our little camper. Most of my fond memories of camping revolve around it. Like waiting anxiously for my dad to get it level so we could finally start raising the roof. Getting a chance to turn the crank that raised the roof. Sweeping it out with our little orange camping broom (apparently dirt was an issue for me then as well). Opening the little fridge in the mornings to get the milk we would pour on our cereal from those little mini variety boxes….something we only ate while camping. Then locking the fridge by sticking that little plastic peg in the hole…something that probably drove my parents nuts since apparently, it was only to be locked when the camper is being towed.
I always looked forward to when the camper was all set up and I got to make my bed. I remember laying down layer after layer of bedding, making it super soft and comfy. I’d add my pillows and grab my book, or drawing paper and unzip all three “windows” so as I laid there the cool mountain breeze would gently flow over my whole body, taking with it any stress my young mind may have been experiencing. I LOVED that. To me, that’s what camping is, completely relaxing and being still in the beautiful, peaceful outdoors.
My very favorite thing about camping as a kid though was playing games at night. Every night after it got too dark to see outside we would go into the camper with its generator powered lights, sit down at the little particle board fold out table (which folded down into my brother’s bed at the end of the night) and play board and card games as a family. I remember Monopoly, poker and my favorite, Yahtzee. Wether it was just the four of us or extended family, we would always play something and it would always involve laughter. I’d take that happiness over the cool mountain breeze any day but with camping, I got both.
Until now. Ok, so what could I incorporate from my childhood camping trips into our current trip?
The camper was definitely out so leveling, cranking, little fridge? Not gonna happen. Though we did bring a pack of those mini cereal boxes and while I enjoyed my Frosted Flakes, I think a little of the novelty was gone when I kept wondering why they only included one type of cereal with a high fiber content and the rest were just the sugary ones. But I suppose that just comes with being the adult.
I toyed with the idea of bringing some board games for the adults to play after the kids went to bed but then thought better of it. We were camping with our friends and with seven kids between us, two of them under the age of one, I didn’t think there would actually be a time when all the kids were in bed. Turns out I was right but I didn’t find it that disappointing since when all our kids finally were asleep I was totally ready to be right there asleep with them. I did bring Uno to play with my oldest since he is beginning to enjoy card games, but building sand castles near the river and playing tag won out over Uno, and rightly so.
How about making up a super relaxing bed and enjoying the breeze? That I could do! I informed my husband that I had packed a bunch of extra blankets to help make our tent more comfortable. He gave me that raised eyebrow look that means “personally I think that’s kinda silly but if that’s what you want then ok”.
I even thought to bring an extra camp chair to keep in the tent that I would cover in soft blankets so I would have a relaxing, comfortable place to nurse my 6 month old when she woke up early in the morning.
In my mind I pictured scenes from movies that take place in the Middle Ages with tents hauled around by servants that are set up for the king, complete with tapestries on the walls, thick fur carpets, a portable throne and enough room to fit your horse. Oh yes, I could make a comfy tent!
I even had a small throw rug all washed and ready to pack when I decided against it because it was a shaggy carpet and I figured it would just get dirt stuck in it. (Again with the dirt.)
So, with my pile of blankets, including our down comforter, a queen size sheet, a couple small quilts and our sleeping bags I was ready for a repeat of my childhood camping experiences.
After my husband set up our tent (and I’ll say right now that I am very spoiled in that in addition to our air matress, we have an eight man tent the size of a bedroom that even my 6’3″ husband can stand up straight in, so really, why do I even complain?) he blew up the mattress and basically told me to have at it.
How did my bed making experience compare to my earlier years? A few observations.
First, the whole idea of peaceful and relaxing feelings goes right out the tent door flap when you have a five year old and a two year old insisting you play chase with them as they bounce on and off of the air mattress. There is no relieving of stress when your breath catches each time one of them slips between the mattress and the tent wall and completely disappears, only to pop up giggling and asking for more. Not to mention trying to get several layers of blankets on and smoothed out with two little ones jumping around on them.
Second, that peaceful breeze I remembered so fondly was pretty much non existent. Turns out I misunderstood where we were going and instead of tall pine trees and the calming sounds they make as the breeze rustles through them, we had scrub brush, boulders and the harsh noon day sun to accompany my bed making. Even with all the tent windows open, by the time I finally finished getting everything set up I got right out of that tent to go sit on the picnic table in the fresh air.
Finally, on a positive note, my extra camp chair/nursing seat/ throne worked brilliantly and I was quite happy to have such a comfy spot to feed my daughter.
So the trip obviously was not a repeat of my childhood camping experiences but really, that’s fine. I still like going camping, though now it’s not about relaxing moments but rather seeing the excitement in my kids’ faces as they play in the river, find a curious squirrel or help dad build a camp fire.