Under the Stars, Outta My Mind

August 8, 2006

It entailed hours of frantic prep and packing, and more hours of stop-and-go traffic through bleached, baking sprawl, but we managed to do what we used to enjoy so much: go camping!

I still can’t say for sure that camping with a toddler is really worth the trouble. It is an exercise in perserverance–clinging desperately to an activity that gave us such pleasure in the past, even though every aspect is changed. Nothing is relaxing and nothing is predictable.

Having outgrown our 2-person tents, we were excited to inaugurate our brand new family tent. Jude, who used to love tents, refused to sleep in it, so we took turns sleeping with him in the car. He used my head as a pillow. I lay awake, listening to some beast bang around the campground’s trash receptacles. We were in bear country and had to stash all our food in bear bins. Jude had tossed a ripe banana peel on the car seat, so the car smelled sugary. I prayed we wouldn’t end up like Grizzly Man by daybreak.

By day, the little man wanted nothing more than to ask incessantly “What your doing?” and to play in the creek when we weren’t looking. Our campmates were child-free adventurers, and hubby and I were doing our best to put a good face on our limitations, responsibilities, and lack of control over our own agenda. They probably felt a little sorry for us, maybe even doubled up on the birth control pills.

Perhaps like parenting in general, the pay-off to going camping is never what we expect it to be. In the moments when I was able to forget my fatigue and frustration, I got to watch Jude lose himself in a field of flowers, walk the length of a downed tree, jab a stick in the creek and watch a pinecone bob downstream.

I didn’t get to lose myself, which is what I anticipate with camping. I had to be vigilant, patient, selfless (not my forte). It’s my son’s turn to fall in love with rocks and trees and wild landscapes while I watch.

Here’s a funny tidbit from a dad, struggling to camp with young’uns:

The first piece of sage advice I learned on my first trip with the boy when he was 7 months old. Do not leave the tarp off the tent if you have a mesh ceiling. At 7 months those little brats will stay up all night staring at the stars and breast feeding like they were at the Pink Floyd light show at the arboretum sipping rum and cokes.