Bears are the least of your worries. In fact, they might distract the children long enough to allow you to set up the tent. So in fact, bears can be helpful!
My husband and I took our two little boys, the textbook Crazy Little Boys that you think of when you see one of those haggard mothers in the supermarket pushing a cart that one boy is using to surf on while the other one is throwing random objects into her hair, to a campground in Pismo Beach last weekend. I would not have suggested the trip with our children at the dangerous ages of 2 and 4, but my friend was turning 50 and it was her birthday wish to have all of her favorite people around her on this camping trip. Plus, we bought a new tent, oh, about 2 years ago, and it’s been sitting in the garage waiting for us to test it out for all this time.
I really do want my children to have a love of camping, because I actually do enjoy it. Before we had them, my husband and I went camping at least twice a year. When I was growing up I went camping with my family every year. As I recall, my brother and sister and I had a fabulous time while my mother hated it. Once we got older and camping was no longer cool, she gave up altogether and we rarely went. I couldn’t imagine why…until now.
Everything went down exactly as I had feared, and in some cases, it was worse. Here are the things I learned and what I will do differently next time:
1. The very first thing I learned was a long list of the stuff I forgot. This includes peanut butter and jelly, any kind of condiment to make a ham sandwich less dry, foil, something to cook on, marshmallows, soda. Most of these things can be purchased at any grocery store, so it wasn’t a big deal, really. I was just annoyed that I was so unprepared.
2. I didn’t bother checking the weather because it’s California! It’s hot during the day and cold at night, especially at the beach. But we were surprised by the chilly, overcast days and wound up wearing the single warm outfit I packed for each of us…the entire time. The entire sweaty, dusty, sandy, smoky time. Needless to say, those clothes had to be fumigated and triple-soaked upon our return.
3. The 2-year-old did, in fact, try to escape every time we looked away. This was troublesome because that particular campground has sites arranged right on the road that snakes through it. The boy was constantly running right into or across the road if he managed to get away. Drivers are warned to proceed slowly but not all of them did, despite the presence of so many children. My husband and I discussed fashioning some sort of tether line to keep him close at hand, but that was really only over cocktails, and we have resolved to train him better next time.
4. Cocktails were absolutely necessary. For the first 24 hours I worried about everything: what I forgot to bring, how high the kids were climbing in the trees, how much dirt was getting inside the tent, if it was time to reapply sunscreen, how the kids wouldn’t settle down to take their nap, etc. Once I cracked open a deliciously tacky wine cooler after lunch on day 2, I finally started to relax and accept that we would be dirty the entire time. Of course the children didn’t care. In fact, when these kids see a patch of dirt anywhere, they run gleefully towards it and roll around like dogs. I kept reminding myself that vacations with children are not meant to be vacations for parents. There was not much actual relaxing for me, and I really want the children to have good memories of outings like this, so I eventually accepted that all the work I was putting into keeping them healthy and safe would go toward that end.
5. It is helpful to have another adult watch the children while you and your spouse are fighting about the best way to erect your tent. In the past, we had a 2-person tent that we could set up singlehandedly while blindfolded. This time, however, we had a new dome tent that sleeps 8, and the poles and sleeves and flys and accessories were puzzling at first. As we figured it out and bickered over the best way to do it, the children kept running away. For the most part that was okay because there was lots of room to run, but when they ventured out of sight one of us had to go chase them down. Luckily, a woman from the birthday group came over and kept an eye on them for us, and eventually we stood back and marveled at our new creation.
6. A tent that is big enough to stand up in is awesome.
7. On vacation, sometimes it pays to let the kids do something that is usually forbidden. In this instance, it was playing “Driver.” I normally do not allow the kids to sit in the front seat of the car and touch all the buttons and levers because, well, that is dangerous. But this is what they, especially the 2 year old, chose as their default activity. At any given moment, if I wondered where he was, the answer was “in the car.” The 4-year-old was often content to sit at the picnic table and draw pictures of the solar system, or lecture his new friends about why Pluto is no longer considered a planet.
8. Plastic grocery bags, while an enemy to the environment, are a camping mother’s friend. I used them for wet clothes, dirty diapers, collected shells, as a tote bag to bring things to the beach, props for the dvd player during the road trip, and many other things. But you already knew this, right? When we got home last night, I was amazed to find that we are actually running low on our plastic grocery bag supply. Don’t worry, environmentalists, I am not going to run out and replenish on purpose. But take that as a lesson – if you are wondering how you are ever going to get rid of them all, just go camping. You’ll use them.
9. Napping, if that is in your normal schedule, is overrated when camping. The kids don’t want to miss one second of fun, so it’s hard to get them to sleep. On the other hand, they do run themselves ragged, so they may just conk out at an inopportune time, such as when you are on the beach with no umbrella.
10. When all else fails, find civilization and give in. We were so chilly and unprepared that one morning we just headed into town for hot chocolate and pastries, and it was good. The kids loved a chance to gobble up some more sugar, and the little cafe was used to tourists with rowdy children.
I would do it again, in fact, I will do it again. But I will re-read this post before I do it, and make a better list!