O: I need my own tent, my own tent where all my friends can sleep with me.
My dad took me camping. I couldn't tell you if he took me twice or a thousand times, but he took me camping. I rode my bike around the campground with my purple unicorn whistle around my neck. I ate s'mores and hotdogs, slept in a tent, and went days without a shower. I carried my own bag, even if it was only from the car to the tent. I learned that there are two kinds of people in the world: good campers and bad campers. I learned that I wanted to be a good camper.
Good campers go with the flow. They know how to have a good time regardless of the circumstances. They always have a pocket knife and bottle opener, and they always know where they are. Good campers follow the campsite rule everywhere they go, always leave the campsite/friend's home/restaurant table/partner/friend/lover better than you found them. They rarely brush their hair, but they always brush their teeth. They share their supplies and food as willingly as they share stories and jokes around the campfire. They know how to pack light, but they always manage to have exactly what they need. Good campers have easy laughs and cool toys. My dad is a good camper.
In our post-marriage, pre-kid life, Jim and I camped. We registered and received a tent as a wedding gift. We didn't camp enough, though. It was always "that thing we should do the next time we have time to," and we never managed to have time to.
We have camped three times with the girls. The first time was unbearable. No one slept. We were dirty and miserable. I brought a car full of things we didn't need, but still couldn't manage to make myself coffee in the morning. If it wasn't for the peer pressure of a beloved group of friends, we might never have camped again.
The second time was better. I packed lighter and smarter. We agreed beforehand to throw the schedule and rules out the window. It was a land of no naps, unlimited snacks, and a run-until-you-pass-out bedtime strategy. It was late fall, cold and damp, and as we snuggled deep in our sleeping bags, I heard O giggle in her sleep, dreaming of s'mores and dragon flies.
This last time was spectacular. The campground had recently had a fire and the charred trees were surrounded by the fresh green of new life that always seems to follow destruction. It was awe-inspiring and a great chance to talk about the cycles we find in nature all around us. O is old enough now that she just was absorbed into the roving dust cloud of children that bounced happily from campsite to campsite, being chased out of tents, and climbing trees. P hopped from lap to lap, happily hosted by the different adults in our party, eating overripe peaches with her sticky, dirty hands. We can't wait to go again, to walk at sunset and look for lizards, to wiggle our toes in the sand, to throw dirt clods in a gully, to watch sleepy children climb onto their parents laps by fire light, fighting to keep their eyes open for just one more minute.
I am learning to be a good camper, to revel in the quiet and to take each moment as it comes, to balance preparation with practicality. I want to lead by example by following the campsite rule, leaving the world behind me better than when I entered it, improved or at least not damaged by my presence there. I want them to remember, when they are grown, being dirty, exhausted, and happy, sleeping deeply with sounds of close-by crickets and far-away coyotes outside the tent. I want them to be good campers, like their grandpa.
Check in tomorrow for my Top Ten Tips for Camping with Toddlers.