When I was a kid, being outside scared me a little, and sometimes a lot. Shocking, considering the fact that I grew up on a small farm. I was mostly afraid of tornadoes, and wind gave me the creeps. I also remember wanting to seem tough, and chill, but as a highly sensitive and emotional kid, you can imagine how sorely I missed the mark. But people change, and although I’m still all of those things and actually still pretty fearful of strong winds and tornadoes, I’ve also learned that I love nature and sometimes wrestling with your fears and discomforts brings unknown freedom and deep joy.
Just 8 days ago night I found myself sleeping under the stars for the very first time. Colorado Bend State Park was the chosen site for our inaugural family camping trip—a test run before my requested birthday beach camping trip. We risked the chances of a sudden downpour and didn’t put the rain canopy over our tent, which allowed me to see the world in a way I’d never seen it before. During the night I could see the wind bending the branches over head as it pushed in and around the verdant tangle of leaves. Each time I awoke, which was a lot because I do have a baby after all, I could see the moon traveling across the sky. I loved seeing it in a new place each time. The wind did scare me a little, and (cheese factor warning!) I remembered the line from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, “
“‘Safe?’ said Mr Beaver … ‘Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.'”
I felt that way about sleeping outside, being surrounded by nature, and vulnerable to it—not exactly safe, but definitely very good.
But let me back up. Getting the kids fed and to bed was tumultuous, I won’t lie. We made what can only be said was a rookie mistake, cooking our food and feeding them after it was already dark, not to mention past their normal bedtime. Cody took Bruno, screaming, at 11 p.m. to the car so as not to disturb our neighbors. After a little while, Cody related to me later, he decided to employ the art of distraction and asked him if he wanted to go for a walk. Bruno stopped crying immediately and agreed to the walk. They meandered in the dark for 20 minutes looking at and talking about the stars, which were so bright and plentiful way out in the middle of nowhere. And this is how it went, blissful times, punctuated by rip-your-hair out moods and stinky recycling toilets. The lows were pretty low, but then the storm would clear, and we’d have these times of such peace and beauty you could hardly believe it was the same day.
It seemed we constantly had to remind our kids and ourselves “Sometimes we do hard things, so that we can enjoy the really extra-special fun things.” It’s now something of a camping mantra for us.
Well, we survived that night, and I was really starting to think I needed to get my head checked after this trip was over—the only explanation for my desire to go camping must be impending insanity?
But that morning I woke up to dappled sunlight overhead and a warm glow filtering through transparent walls. I could hear the strong sound of birds chirping, and a distinctive, more subtle sound of… zippers, being unzipped and zipped back up again; Seb was the first to rise, and was somewhat quietly exploring all the functionality of our sleeping space. Bruno was chilly, so Cody helped him put on cozy pants and his jacket. One by one, we dressed and stepped out into our campsite. Cos and I lallygagged behind, and I kid you not, the wonder on a baby’s face waking up in a tent is nothing short of magic:
Cody started a fire, scrambled some eggs, and with surprising ease crafted as many delicious breakfast tacos as we could tuck away. I boiled water and made coffee in my french press. Maybe it was the brisk air, the invigorating sunshine, or the marshmallows we just had for breakfast-dessert (Seb’s particular request), but even Cody, who really doesn’t care for coffee at all, said it was “Delicious!” Well, it’s settled, outdoor-husband is my favorite husband. All of this took us 2 hours. Camping time + kid time is basically like living in slow motion. You think I’m kidding.
Eventually we were ready for a walk, so we ventured towards a spring we’d heard about, where there was some swimming and a few small waterfalls. The walk was hard for the kids, but after we arrived, all the sweat and tears turned into splashing and giggles as they slipped repeatedly on the rocks and cooled off in the water. When we walked upstream a little ways, we were met with the sprightliest waterfall, framed by lush walls of green, flowing into a shallow pool. When Bruno saw it, he said to Cody, “This is my lifetime dream!” After that, all my doubts were banished. After all, how could I deny my kids their lifetime dreams? Ha! They waded around and climbed up to the pool feeding the waterfall. Again, such peace and delight, soaking up these natural wonders with our boys. Cosmas was the only one a little put out by the fact that I would not allow him to lunge, unfettered, into the water with the big boys.
Our walk back was, again, tumultuous… but I am trying not to let these spaces of time discourage me. Kids have feelings and adults have feelings. To be honest, I didn’t like the same things my kids didn’t like, and I caught myself starting to grumble right along with them. It’s convicting when you realize that adults still throw tantrums, we’ve just gotten good at making them seem more socially acceptable. Cody is the very best at reminding us all to choose to be joyful no matter our circumstances, and just breathe through the tough spots, putting one foot in front of the other. The man knows how to keep his cool. The storm always passes. I’m officially giving him the title “Most Positive Man Alive.”
One of the things I was nervous about before this trip was wondering what the boys would do while we took care of the work of camping. Setup, take down, building fires, etc. But the eagerness with which the boys worked side by side with Cody was delightful. They helped build the fire and fetch different things from our tent. They asked questions and played in the dirt. We started an illustrated log of animals and interesting bugs we saw, which included armadillos and a snake. I kept thinking that maybe the hard parts would make them hate camping, but children are so resilient, and have nothing but excitement and eagerness to camp again and again. It was most definitely the beginning of something really amazing for our family.
Do you camp? I would sincerely love to hear all of your camping recs for gear and setup, as well as fun stories! We are in the thick of identifying gear to purchase, so we are all ears.
Some things that worked really well for our first trip:
- Borrow camping gear from some experienced family campers. Our priest and his family loaned us an amazing 6-person tent, enamelware dishes, and double-walled mugs. In case you’re wondering, real dishes are so much less of a headache than paper or plastic. They don’t blow away, and if you bring a bottle of castile soap, they’re quick to wash up and put back into storage. We are so grateful to have been offered the use of such a thoughtful collection of camping gear to get us started.
- Start reciting our camping mantra right now, because there will be T-O-U-G-H moments. “Sometimes we do hard things, so that we can enjoy the really extra-special fun things.” (Recommendations for streamlining our clunky mantra into something catchy are welcome!)
- Keep food simple. Our expectations for cuisine didn’t extend very far beyond hot dogs and marshmallows. Breakfast tacos sound fancy, but they were really very low key and will be a breakfast staple for us.
- If you want to camp with your kids, do it. Don’t think, just do it. Get that gear! Find that park! And lasso that adventure! Yes, it will be hard, and maybe even scary, but it will also most certainly be good good good.