It had been a long day. T and I stayed up late Thursday night packing the gear, got the girls up early Friday morning, loaded them into the car in jammies with cups of Fruit Loops for the road, drove about 3 hours north to the campground, set up the tent, played on the beach and the playground, built a fire, ate smores, put them to bed in their pink sleeping bags. A blissful first day, really, but also an exhausting one. So when the fire was burning out, and we looked around the campsite to make sure everything was put away, and we saw the coffee and sugar and cocoa on the picnic table, we thought, no need to unlock the car and figure out where to stash these when really, we will want them first thing in the morning anyway. T might have even said, “I don’t think the squirrels want our dark roast coffee.”
Wrong. We thought wrong.
We woke up to piles of sugar and coffee under the table, shredded packets of Swiss Miss everywhere, and a squadron of cracked out squirrels and chipmunks chasing each other through the campsite and surrounding trees. When Tyler tried to clean up the mess, one tiny fierce squirrel clung to a tree just inches away from him, shrieking and chattering angrily. Apparently caffeinated rodents know no fear.
In the land before children, T and I camped, hiked and backpacked. But our gear has been sitting unused on the basement shelves for a couple of years, camp stove and lanterns gathering dust. I was determined to make a camping trip happen this summer, and to that end, I helped my mom pick out a ginormous 8 person tent for Tyler’s birthday last fall. Our 3 person, 3 season backpacking tent will remain a dusty relic. These days, we are camping with a pack and play, 2 pink sleeping bags, and a ridiculously large supporting cast of stuffed animals. We strapped the jogging stroller to the roof of the van, stuffed the cooler full of GoGurt and string cheese, and drove north.
We camped in a county park on Grand Traverse Bay: we wanted wooded camp sites, beach access, a playground, clean bathrooms, and inland lakes within 10 minutes in case the bay was too cold or too rough for the girls to swim.
I admit, I expected camping with kids to feel weighty: so much gear! So many trips to the bathroom! So many opportunities to fall into fire or drown or break an arm or leg! But without the competing demands of dishes and laundry and facebook and emails from my students and errands to run, it felt ridiculously easy to be present and relaxed as a parent while camping. Nothing has to be done RIGHT NOW when you’re camping. You can spend an hour staring at a snail on the cooler or rolling a roly poly bug around on a plate.
Play till we’re hungry. Eat what sounds good. Toss the paper plates in the fire. Lounge in the sunshine. Draw our favorite parts of the day in the camping journal. Stay up and eat s’mores till the stars come out. Sleep, wake up, do it all again.