Ah, spring. This is the season when I normally plan out all of our family summer activities, which for the last two years have included car camping. This year, however, I’ve come to my senses. I am no longer fooled by other parents who insist that camping with little kids is so much fun, that babies are so portable and so easy to take camping. I now know the truth, which is that camping with any child under the age of three is like asking for a big, ripe slice of hell.
Two summers ago, when Riley was seven and Ben was about to turn one, Kennard and I took them on their first campout. We brought Ben’s port-a-crib and bottles and diapers and all the other requisite baby stuff, in addition to the usual mountain-sized pile of camping gear. We bought a tent that was roughly the size of a two-car garage.
I’d never done any camping as a kid. As a result, my visions of camping were those left over from my childhood imagination, with soft-focus images of s’mores, campfires, and family singing. Kennard, who did go camping as a kid, was slightly less enthralled with the idea of taking a not-yet-one-year-old, but he went along with it. I think I convinced him using arguments like, “It will be so much fun! Babies are so portable and so easy to take on camping trips!”
The first day was great, just like I’d pictured it. The four of us hiked, sang songs, and s’mored. Kennard and I shared a bottle of wine. We played a slightly hysterical game of badminton. It was perfect. But then night fell.
Baby Ben wasn’t a great sleeper even at home; at camp, he was a total nightmare. In this unfamiliar environment, he kept waking up and crying, about once an hour. Each time, Kennard or I would hold him and pace in the tent until he went back to sleep. Our night went something like this:
Kennard: [Stumbles out of his sleeping bag, picks Ben up, starts pacing.]
Me: Ow, you just stepped on my foot!
Kennard: Sorry, I can’t see anything. What time is it?
Me: 1 a.m. 2:15. 3:00. 4:30. (We had this conversation a number of times.)
Riley: Mommy, I can’t sleep. Can you please tell Ben to shut up?
Me: Ben, honey, will you please shut up?
Some time later, after Kennard has paced the equivalent of two miles:
Riley (her face three inches from mine): Mommy, I have to pee.
I think we got a total of two hours of sleep, and couldn’t wait to go home the next day. Unpacking the minivan afterwards took up most of July.
We tried again later that summer. Somehow, I had convinced a highly reluctant Kennard that family camp — where all meals, activities, and a tent-cabin are provided — would be much better. Off we went to a week-long session.
Once again, the nights nearly killed us. Ben was up about 12 times every night and could not be settled by anything other than a bottle of nice, warm formula. This required one parent to stumble off to the public bathroom in total darkness (not to mention 30-degree weather) to get warm water while the remaining parent desperately tried to keep Ben quiet so as not to disturb the other campers. By the second morning Kennard and I were no longer able to form coherent sentences. We mumbled things to each other like, “Coffee… must have… naps…” as we staggered out of our cabin.
Being the good mom that I am, I tried to stick it out. Riley was having a great time, and it was obvious that camping was sheer bliss for Baby Satan, who spent his days sitting in the dirt and pouring it over his head. Several people took pictures of him sitting there, and our hearts swelled with pride to be the owners of a child so encrusted with filth that complete strangers found him noteworthy.
But by the sixth morning I was exhausted and weepy. I whimpered to Kennard, “I just can’t make it. Please, please take me home.” We ended up packing up the van (which took several hours) and leaving a day early. Riley was in tears. Kennard didn’t even say “I told you so.”
To top off the trip, Ben, never the world’s best traveler, then proceeded to scream for the first 100 miles of the drive home. We tried not to let it get to us, and even Riley was uncomplaining until about mile 75. At that point, though, she lost it. She leaned over, put her face an inch from his, and screamed, “Ben! You’re so stupid! You don’t sleep! You eat dirt! I don’t know why these people even take care of you!” This sort of summed up what we all felt by then.
A year later, our memories softened by time, we bravely attempted another family camp over the Memorial Day weekend. Ben was nearly two and sleeping well at home. What could go wrong? Ah, what indeed. Within hours of our arrival Friday evening, Ben had a freak accident and sustained a “toddler fracture” in his left tibia. Poor little guy. After spending all of Saturday morning in the local ER, we left camp early. Again. Riley sadly asked me why we never make it through an entire camping trip. Camp Hell, Part III.
There will be no episodes of Camp Hell this year. With a new baby on the way and Ben not yet three, I will not be signing us up for anything that doesn’t involve indoor plumbing and a soft bed. I doubt I will be signing us up for anything at all. Mommy is a slow learner, but she’s not a complete idiot.