The plan began late Thursday night after we’d looked at the weather for the weekend – 80* and sunny, 0% chance of rain. Actually, the plan began earlier this summer after our completely wonderful anniversary camping trip sans kids. Well, actually, the plan started about ten years ago when we were dating and obnoxiously in love. Eric and I camped all the time then and when we were newly married…sometimes out of the back of our tiny car, sometimes hiking for days and setting up camp in a remote spot at night. In fact, our very first kiss was shared on the shore just a few feet away from our campsite. Camping is kind of in our family’s blood.
We’ve been talking about taking Owen camping since he was born, but then I got pregnant with Elsa when he was still pretty young. And really, who wants to sleep on the ground when pregnant? Or get up four times in the middle of the night to pee…in an outhouse? Not me. So we waited.
But when we saw the weather for the past weekend, we knew it was time. Still, we wavered. Three out of the four of us had colds. We were worried they wouldn’t fall asleep, stay asleep…that someone would fall into the fire or into a patch of poison ivy. But that weather.
We reserved a site at Lake Carlos State Park, which is about a ten-minute drive away from where Eric’s parents live, figuring that if everything went south, we could just throw them in the van and crash there. I started my packing lists on Friday during naptime. Made a solo Target run Friday night for provisions. Hot dogs? Check. Marshmallows? Check. Queen-sized-family-bed air mattress? Check. The packing began in earnest on Saturday morning around 7:30, just after my first cup of coffee. Eric parented while I ran around all corners of our house – basement and attic – collecting everything we would need to survive the apocalypse.
Six – six! – hours later, we were all in the minivan, pulling out of our driveway. I looked back at the minivan’s ample contents; I looked at Eric, and sighed: I hope this is worth it. A couple hours later, we pulled into a very woodsy site #30 and started to unload. And really, the rest of that day was perfect. We set up the tent and our very cushy mattress. We met Eric’s parents for a short hike by the bluest of blue lakes. Owen was totally in his element, excited about every
fishing pole baseball bat stick he found. Elsa seemed to really enjoy being outside too, perhaps because her greatest joy in life is eating leaves. The only damper on the day was our neighbors’ choice in music, but even that wasn’t so bad.
We cooked the hot dogs. We told Owen to be careful around the fire about 834 times. We taught him about the beauty of s’mores. He ran around our campsite like an caffeinated squirrel when we let him wear the headlamp. It was a really, really fun day with the kind of weather camping dreams are made of.
We had decided to let the kids get as tired as they could be before trying to put them to bed. Eventually, Elsa started to act sleepy, and I headed towards the tent to nurse her; Owen was really excited to sleep in the tent and asked to go to sleep too. By lantern light, we got them ready, and all four of us climbed inside. After nursing, Elsa sacked out pretty quickly, and Owen seemed pretty sleepy too. So, separated by a wall of pillows, we quietly slipped out of the tent.
We both sat down heavily in our chairs, toasting a successful day with our Surly Oktoberfests, and got busy making more s’mores. We were just starting to relax when we heard Owen, huddled right by the tent door, trying to whisper: Dad! Hey Dad! Can I come out? Eric went over to talk to him, then into the tent to try to get him relaxed. A few minutes later, he came back out. And ten minutes later, the cycle repeated. And repeated.
We finally gave up, put the fire out, and decided to call it an early night. Owen then proceeded to wake up every. two. hours. And what you have to understand about Owen is that when he wakes up he sounds like an trapped and injured pteradactyl. He has since he was tiny. So each time, we’d scramble to fill his sippy cup with the milk we had in a cooler inside the tent. We could usually quiet him down within a minute, but I’m pretty sure everyone camping within one hundred feet of us woke up every time. It was so, so stressful. Elsa fared a bit better, easily nursed back to sleep. But Owen. Oh, Owen.
About the fourth time he woke up, Eric informed me in a emphatic whisper that Owen was soaked. Apparently, by lantern light, Eric had put him in a pullup instead of a night diaper, and now Owen and all of his surrounding blankets were really wet. We knew if we changed him in his half-asleep state, he’d cry the entire time, so with one weary look at one another, Eric and I knew what had to happen.
We threw Owen in his carseat, and Eric took off. It was 5 a.m., so after a quick diaper and jammie change a few miles down the road, Eric, bless his heart, drove around for two hours while Owen slept in the carseat. Meanwhile, Elsa and I stretched out on what was now a much roomier air mattress and snuggled.
Just as I was getting hungry and wondering where Eric was (both of our phones were dead), I heard the crunch of gravel as the minivan pulled back in to good, ol’ campsite #30. I climbed out of the tent and discovered what the two of them had been up to the last two hours. Because Eric is kind and good, rather than complain about how tired he was, he showed me the beautiful sunrise pictures he’d taken on his scenic drive.
Moving pretty slowly, we made a fire and ate our favorite camp breakfast: crescent roll dough toasted on a stick and then smeared with peanut butter while still warm. And we drank coffee. As much coffee as we’d brought. This was life-giving coffee.
And the rest of that day was really wonderful too. The sun warmed us up quickly as we packed up the tent. And I fell in love with our minivan all over again as I happily threw things in the back without plan or strategy as to how things would fit.
We put both babies in carriers and took a longer hike through the woods before heading to Eric’s parents for lunch. It was a beautiful walk through the woods, quiet, with few people. I had Owen on my back, and I stopped at one point when I heard a rustling in the leaves at our feet.
“Look, Owen, there’s a frog in the leea….aaaah!”
Definitely not a frog. A small snake that I’d pretty much just stepped on slithered away from us while I tried not to have a heart attack.
Snake notwithstanding, it was a pretty walk with our two babies in tow.
As the kids slept in back on the way home, Eric and I talked about whether this was a success or not….and we decided that it was. It’s like a science experiment: we wondered about the variable of the pullup mistake and how much of an effect that had had on our night. We’ll really never know.
But overall, I think Eric said it best when he responded to my “I hope this is worth it” as we pulled out of our driveway. He said, “We just have to remember that these are the kind of people we want to be, and the kind of people we want our kids to be. People who don’t just do the same thing every weekend, people who get out of the city and enjoy nature, people who camp.”
And that we are: people who camp.