At the Campsite

  Camping.  Camping with kids.  Did you just flinch?  Or did you sigh?  I loved camping as a kid and even as an adult.  Cozy tents, a kaleidoscope of stars, crackling campfires, and spending the day covered in a layer of dirt was charming, even exhilarating.  From Girl Scout trips to 3am munchies on the Guadalupe, I loved it all.  Now, camping as a parent?  That's tricky, even a bit scary.

   Some of our dear friends are avid campers.  They were raised camping and have been taking their children since they were babies.  I remember my girlfriend showing me a picture of her son in a pack-and-play surrounded by a blanket of rust-colored fallen leaves with columns of sunlight piercing through the tree tops.  They had just gotten back from their annual camping trip and were putting the feelers out- trying to see if we'd be interesting in going with them sometime.  I didn't hesitate, "No way!  There is absolutely no way Little Girl (a baby at the time) would ever fall asleep (until the age of four she was a difficult sleeper, only closing her eyes for 9-12 hours as a newborn) in a tent and I don't think I could ever get my husband in one." 

   A few years later, they asked again.  At this point, Little Girl was four and Baby Girl was two.  Baby Girl had just finished successfully potty-training and we had just survived eight days in Disney World.  We can handle it, we thought.  Luckily, our friends were taking on much of the responsibility by deciding to host us.  They were bringing and cooking all the food.  Phew.  I brought ingredients to make a dessert I found on Pinterest and we brought all the necessary gear- tent, blow-up mattresses, marshmallow skewers, soap, water, and books.  When we arrived at Tyler State Park, we were stunned by the scenery and the spacious campsite, fully-equipped with electricity and running water.  The bathrooms were pretty close too.

Camping at Tyler State Park in Texas,

Little Girl putting OFF on everyone.

   It was a little stressful putting a tent together with a curious and destructive two-year-old, but our four-year-old had just begun to listen to our commands and was a complete angel.  Once the tents were set up, the dads grabbed some bug kits and took the kids on a nature walk while the moms started preparing dinner.  I was completely out of my element and provided little assistance in the "kitchen".  It has never been so obvious I'm a creature of habit as when you ask me to prepare a meal outside of my own kitchen.  Even when my oven has been too clean in the past from under-use, I still knew my way around.  As the nature walk came to an end, we were ready for them to return.  The kids first assembled their own Hobo Dinners and then came to our tent for story time while dinner cooked over the campfire.

     Our girls ended up eating the emergency grilled cheese I brought, just in case they wouldn't be adventurous at dinner time.  As it turns out, grilled cheese has never tasted as good until you've cooked it on the campfire- so gooey and warm.  With the exception of "bath time" (showering at a campsite with small children was so much trouble for me...I might have been better off hosing them down back at the tents), the rest of the evening was perfect.  S'mores.  Kids' bed time.  Adult beverages and belly laughs.  The only rookie mistake we made was inflating the mattresses during the day.  We must have warned and corrected the kids a hundred times not to jump on the beds.  I woke up about fifteen times that night on the floor because my mattress was leaking.

  The next morning, the moms took the kids to play at the park while the dads prepared a delicious breakfast.  Dessert was next.  When you're camping you can have dessert after every meal, right?  Baby Girl helped me whip together cake batter, we poured it into hollowed-out orange rinds, and let them cook.  The moist fists of chocolate cake soaked up the citrus and warmed us up for the day.  We took a wonderfully easy, yet beautiful, hike before leaving that afternoon.  It was a perfect trip.

Hiking in Tyler State Park.

   Fast forward a year and a half, and they asked us to go camping again.  We were so excited!!  The weather forecast was warm and we were more prepared than last time.  The girls squealed in excitement all week!  As we packed up that morning, a surprise storm had blown in (lovely Texas weather).  I threw an old gazebo in the truck just in case it rained.  We made it to Ray Roberts Lake State Park a little late, but unpacked and set up tent like pros.  Unfortunately, I had somehow forgotten the blankets and, according to the newly adjusted forecast, the overnight low would now reach 45*, not 55* as it stated earlier.  The dads grabbed brown paper bags and headed out on a scavenger hunt/nature walk with the kids while the wives made a run to Wal-Mart.

   I had received a "Daddy SOS" phone call while we were gone, insisting we hurry back because Baby Girl wouldn't stop crying.  Only when we pulled up to the campsite and I saw my husband and Baby Girl three feet from each other, his arms crossed, and her standing still and bawling, did I take him seriously.  Apparently, she had gotten into some cactus while we were gone.  Of course she did.  Fifteen cactus thorns were lodged in her sweet little skin from her underarm, down her side, and all the way to her rump.  I couldn't see the thorns with my naked eye and running my fingers across her skin only worsened the pain when they caught on the thorns.  Eventually, I discovered they were visible if I pinned her down and held her skin up to the sun light.

   Unfortunately for me, my husband had shut down while we were gone and, even with seventeen plus years of paramedic experience, would be of no assistance.  I struggled with her in the car, hoping the enclosure would muffle her terrified screams, while I attempted to hold her down and remove the nearly-invisible thorns from her flailing, fighting body armed only with a pair of eyebrow tweezers.  Had she not suffered from a stubborn splinter a few weeks prior which took me thirty minutes of digging with real tweezers to remove, she probably wouldn't have been that upset this time.  It was awful.  Eventually, I looked out the window and realized I needed to relocate.  Her shrieks had been scraping everyone's brains for well over an hour.  At this point, it wasn't fair to make the entire campgrounds suffer too.  But right before I drove off, and immediately after my own meltdown had begun, I slung an expletive at my husband and flipped him off.  He's a lucky guy, isn't he?

   Twenty minutes later, I somehow finished removing all the pain from my Baby Girl, cuddled and calmed her back down, and then headed back to the campsite.  Thanks to over a year and a half immersed in a marriage ministry in our church, I knew the only thing to do was to immediately apologize.  I didn't hesitate.  I said I was sorry for being so hideous and, of course, I loved him and was so embarrassed I had acted that way.  He was gracious, forgave me, and we were all laughing about it within minutes.  Phew.  Crisis averted.


Camping at Ray Roberts Lake National Park.

   Again, we assembled and cooked the Hobo Dinners, told stories and roasted all kinds of melted marshmallow desserts around the campfire, then put the kids to bed.  Since we were better at this whole camping thing, we chose not to inflate the mattresses until bed time.   The only problem with that is, if there is a hole in one of the ole trusty mattresses that had been reliable for almost ten years, you won't discover it until it's too late.  You won't discover it until after you've already made a Wal-Mart run, fed them dinner, dressed them in their pajamas, read the bedtime stories, trekked back and forth from the campsite bathroom one last time, and the adult beverages have already been cracked open, condensation quickly gathering on the glass.  It's too late to run back to the store.  We'll just have to make it work.  Our friend patched the hole with electrical tape.  Genius.  Kiss, kiss.  Goodnight kids.

   We drank.  We dipped strawberries in marshmallow fluff and roasted them on the fire.  We drank some more.  We laughed.  We ate more strawberries.  We walked down by the lakeshore and stared at the stars.  Then it was time for all of us to go to bed.  It was getting chilly and I couldn't wait to cuddle up in the warm tent.  I layered up, we aired up the girls' mattress that was already sinking, and we tucked ourselves in for the night.  Then it all started. 

   First, the train horn.  You know when the night air is so still you can hear a train blowing its horn miles away?  I usually smile and then head back in the house.  This is not the case in a tent.  I don't know what crisis the train was averting by blowing its horn repeatedly for an hour, or why the horn never faded into the horizon, but it didn't.  And just as the horn became bearable, the armadillo started.  In Tyler State Park, the raccoons were a problem.  There were too many and they weren't scared of coming uncomfortably close, sniffing for snacks.  Now at Ray Roberts Park, the armadillos are the problem.  We had been shooing them away from our site the last hour or so and I thought they were gone for good.

   I had seen a slithery shape in the fallen leaves near our tent that afternoon and decided to brush it off.  Even if it was a huge snake, it wouldn't dare try and slither into our tent.  It turned out to be the trail an armadillo's tail leaves behind.  Now this relentless armadillo sniffed, scooted, and crunched the leaves right outside our tent for what seemed like hours.  Then it would stop.  Then it would start up again.  Meanwhile, the temperature was dropping, Baby Girl was sniffling up a storm, and the girls were sinking into the mattress again.  I kept checking the weather app on my phone.  "Ok, it dropped another two degrees.  We still have eleven more degrees to go.  Surely I'm tough enough to handle this, right?  It's just chilly.  It's not that bad.  I'll fall asleep eventually.  Oh no.  My nose is frozen.  Let's check the app again.  Maybe it won't get any colder."  An hour or so later, I pleaded with my husband.

Me:  Babe?  Are you still awake?  I can't sleep.  I'm freezing.

Him:  Me too.  This blanket is no good.  I guess we aren't sleeping tonight.

Me:  Really?  How am I supposed to function tomorrow with no sleep?!

Him:  (He muffles a snicker with his hand.  He has a severe sleep disorder and never sleeps.)  Well, what do you want to do?

Me:  I don't know...???

Him:  Leave?

Me:  Would that be so horrible??

Him:  No!  We're not stuck in a fox hole in the middle of a war.  We can leave!  We have a warm, comfortable home.  Why would we force ourselves to stay here when we don't have to?


   So, we packed up and left.  Our friends forgave us for not being prepared (we do own an electric blanket but I left it at home with all the other blankets) and for leaving them with a tent and a gazebo to break down in the morning, in addition to all the equipment of their own.  And when we slipped the girls into the truck, they awoke, asking us why we were leaving.  "Girls, a storm is coming!  We have to get out of here!"  They asked why no one else was packing up, but didn't put up much of a fight because it seemed a bit exciting to them.  My husband and I deliriously laughed the whole way home, swore we would never go camping again without at least a cabin, and slipped into our warm beds at four in the morning.  You win some, you lose some.

   And even after I was a monster to him earlier in the day, he was understanding and loving with me that night.  You win some, you lose some.  The only problems were we didn't leave a bottle opener with our friends (they texted me a picture of the neck of a broken bottle the next day) and we had a bunch of oranges to eat once we made it back home because I didn't get a chance to cook canned cinnamon rolls in hollowed-out orange rinds.  You win some.  You lose some.  If anyone knows of some cool cabins in Texas for our next camping trip, please let me know.

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