In 1999 we had our fifth child, Abby, and she was a beauty. A full head of bizarre black hair that was already in her eyes when we brought her home. Her face was a little scrunched up and she was
Ok…I thought she was cute. So did her Dad, but we may have been a little blinded by love.
She aged well, though.
Anyway, a few weeks later we were at our annual church fair. The kids LOVED the church fair. There were games and ice cream and fried dough. It was a fairly small church, so everyone knew our kids and they could have the freedom to run around and we didn’t need to watch too closely. They looked forward to the church fair all year back then, often offering to do extra chores for a little spending money of their own. The church fair was as hokey as any fair you can imagine with a tractor pull, local music talent and a lively auction where you could bid against your neighbor on a gift certificate for a septic system cleaning. What a deal!
This year, Kevin decided to bid on a two-night gift certificate to a campground. I thought he was nuts, we had five kids under the age of ten.
He bid anyway, and I just sat there with my hairy baby and watched. Sure enough, he won the prize: two fabulous nights at some unknown campground in the middle of nowhere. He had a grin a mile wide and we both knew he knew absolutely nothing about camping. I also knew he’d figure out how to show the kids a great time.
A few weeks later we gathered up the borrowed gear we had accumulated. It was decided that he would camp with the three oldest and I would come during the day with Keegan and Abby. We drove out to the campground and picked our site. The campground was hilly and wooded and we picked what we thought was the perfect site to set up our borrowed-tent-that-we-had-never-set-up-before.
Lesson #1 – NEVER pick a site at the bottom of a hill.
Rain flows down. And boy did it rain…Kelly woke up in a puddle. All her things were soaked. She was a trooper about it and we dried her out as best we could, but she had to come home with me and the babies for night #2. She was NOT happy about it and let us know.
Lesson #2 – Never go camping without having set up a tent before.
How hard could setting up a tent be? Really?!? I mean, Kevin and I have college degrees…we are parents to five kids. We are intelligent adults.
So it seems likely that we wouldn’t set the darn thing up inside-out…but that’s exactly what happened. Now I’ll freely admit, if it were me alone, that’s exactly where the camping experience would’ve ended. But Kevin was determined to see this through and spend time with the kids in this wholesome setting. I admire him for that…he was clearly the superior parent at this moment. I just sat and watched him flip the tent right-side-out and put it up. Somewhere we have a photo of him standing in front of that tent with his hands held high…victory! The kids were on cloud nine and I was humbled once again. THAT lesson has needed to be learned by me on a few more occasions.
Lesson #3 – NEVER allow the two-year-old to play in the van.
There wasn’t much to do at this campground and we soon learned the value of camping where there is swimming and bike trails. Keegan was a very active two-year-old, as you might know if you’ve been reading this blog. While I was getting dinner ready for my campers, and Kevin was entertaining the kids, we let Keegan “drive the car”. He was a tiny little blonde, curly head and he LOVED to stand on the driver’s seat and “drive”. He was happy, I was cooking and Kevin was goofing around with the other kids and holding Abby. Finally, dinner was ready and we ate. After, I packed up the dinner stuff as well as Keegan, Abby, and a very disgruntled Kelly and headed off to the van…only to find it locked with the keys inside. I guess not playing with the buttons in the van was more than Keegan could handle, so Kevin walked down to the office (pre-cell phone days, folks) to call AAA. By now it was dark and quiet and the campground was settling down for the night. Suddenly we can hear the loud diesel engine of the flatbed tow truck they sent out to unlock the van door. With lights flashing and engine rumbling, they made sure everyone in the campground knew who we were. We got the van unlocked and I headed home. Another valuable lesson learned.
After all this, the camping experience that weekend was…mediocre. The campground was a little boring and our stuff got soaked, but Kevin saw the value of taking the kids to live in the great outdoors, a few days at a time. He was so right and our family is better off because of his foresight.
We continued to camp over the next few years, trying out different places. One place had tons of scheduled activities for the kids. Seemed like a perfect scenario, right?…the kids are busy, we have free time – until we realized our kids were off doing things with other people and they weren’t with us. That’s not what we had in mind for our family, so it was time to find a different campground. We tried the isolated one by the hunting lodge in northern Maine. It was rustic and beautiful, but not exactly what a large family needed.
Then we found our place.
A gorgeous state park on a beautiful lake. It was quiet and clean. There was a beach for the bigger kids and right next to it, a playground for the littles. Bike trails galore. It wasn’t long before we knew we had found someplace special. The kids would start anticipating our camping week months in advance. Waking up to a delicious camping breakfast around the campfire was anticipated as much as spending the day at the beach with games and a hefty cooler of snacks for the day. Sleepy heads would emerge from the tents, one after the other, to the smell of sausages and hash browns and coffee. After supper, the kids would pair off, cleaning up the dishes and campsite before we settled in for a night around the campfire. The little ones were freshly washed and snuggly in their jammies for a few minutes of campfire cuddling. Then off to a perfect sleep after a busy day of play outdoors. Not a screen to be found and they never asked for one.
Now camping has its challenges, don’t get me wrong. When it rains there is little relief. We call my husband the “tarp master” for a reason. He manages every single year to set up a tarp, high in the trees above the campfire so we can enjoy a rainy day at the site while playing games and cooking hot dogs over the fire. If the planning is done right, and Mom and Dad are prepared for a week outdoors, rain or shine, there is no better vacation.
Camping is a great way to reconnect with each other and disconnect from the world for a few days. A much-needed reset button.
But don’t pick a site at the bottom of a hill…trust me on this.