So I’m that guy, chasing my 20 month old son around the great outdoors, trying to keep him from killing himself.
We took the whole family camping last weekend for a reunion with my immediate family. I have mixed feelings about camping with kids. We have a 9 year old, 4 year old, 20 month old, and a 5 month old. The 5 month old was nearly perfect during the trip, the 9 and 4 year olds had their share of whining and drama, but the 20 month old was the challenge. I think it might be somewhat normal, but he seems to have a stronger than usual desire to test the durability of his small body. One comedian I have listened to likes to say that all children around the age of two are essentially suicidal and it is our job to make sure they do not succeed in their attempts. I’m becoming more and more convinced of the truthfulness of that theory as I observe the judgment of my son.
The campground we went to was next to a small water park. Our first activity after setting up camp was to go swimming with the kids. As we got to the pool I was watching our son. We went to set our towels down about 20 feet from the pool and I set my son down as I took off my shirt. As I was distracted, my son recognized the opportunity and went straight for the pool. He is not necessarily fast, but my judgment to finish taking off my shirt before chasing after him was called into question as my wife rushed to catch him with less than 1 foot to spare before he went toddling into the deep end of the swimming pool. It was an effective reminder that my son could not be trusted and I would have to be on high alert through the rest of the trip.
The rest of the trip was essentially two days of suicide watch as I followed my son around the campground; watching him get as close to danger as possible and dragging him back to our campsite.
The first night in the camper was a disaster. Our kids thrive on routine and changing that routine by being in a new environment and sleeping in a camping trailer was enough to make life difficult. Once again, the 20 month old proved to be the most difficult. At 11 p.m. my wife finally gave up trying and loaded him into the truck to drive him around until he went to sleep. No one got enough sleep that night.
The next day in the pool was when it finally caught up with them. The 20 month old fell asleep on my shoulder while I was carrying him around in the water, and the 5 month old fell asleep in her floatation device. I found a quiet corner of the pool to hold them as they took their naps. After the morning swim we went back to camp for lunch. We spent some time with my family visiting and after lunch I took the two babies into the trailer where they both fell asleep. I think that was one of the best parts of the “vacation.” I was able to take a short nap and the rest of the afternoon I watched the Shaytards on my phone.
That evening our routine was interrupted again. My sister was in charge of dinner for the group and she was at the swimming pool. Our family is accustomed to eating dinner at between 5:30 and 6:00. We were finally eating at 9:00. In spite of this delay and the late bedtime, thankfully the children slept better than the night before.
In spite of all the interruptions to our family routine, we were able to have a good time. It was great to be able to visit and spend time with my siblings and their families. We have a pretty close family and get together regularly, but being in a different environment seemed to improve the interactions that we had. The children had a lot of fun playing together and swimming.
It may sound like I had a terrible experience, and yes many aspects of the camping trip were difficult and annoying. But there were moments of fun interspersed throughout the experience that, in the end, made it a worthwhile trip to go on.
I was telling a neighbor about our trip the other night and he said something that impacted me. “Making memories and having fun, are not the same thing.” That is a very profound statement. I may not have enjoyed every minute of my time camping, but the memories of the good times we had will stick with my older children for a very long time. I have to constantly remind myself to live in the moment and enjoy the experiences we have together. Children grow up fast and the memories we have are the only things that last.