camping

Coping With Camping

So I’m that guy, chasing my 20 month old son around the great outdoors, trying to keep him from killing himself.

 

No Camping Sign

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.

 

Father and Son Outing

So I’m that guy, mostly enjoying every minute of his Son’s first Fathers and Sons camping trip, realizing that his family is a miracle.

Camping

My family has this tradition. In the beginning of the summer, our church has what are called “Father and Sons camp outs”. I have memories of these events from the age of about five years old. In Idaho, the first part of the summer can either be a little hot or very cold and most of my memories involve the very cold.

One year, I think I was about eight years old. I woke up in our tent at midnight with a fever. It was raining outside and very cold. My Dad ended up leaving my brother with a friend and driving me home in the rain. I remember the trip home with the heater on high the whole way. I remember it being a great feeling to be warm again.

I have memories of sitting around the campfires, listening to stories. Whether they were funny or scary, I liked them all. The food was always good, and there were always friends to play with.

I have memories of many motorcycle rides on these outings. Large groups of friends and neighbors exploring the local mountain trails and having a good time.

All in all, some of my favorite memories came from these trips with my Dad and brothers. I have always looked forward to the day when I could bring my own son on a Father and Sons campout. Many years, as my wife and I struggled with infertility, this was one of my perceived losses.

The day finally arrived, last week I was able to take my four year old son on the camping trip. Although, for us it is not really a “camping trip,” we would rather spend the night in a warm hotel room. Remember, all my negative memories of the trips involved the actual camping aspect. There is a hotel near the usual site for the outing, so we opted to enjoy all the parts we like and sleep in a comfortable, warm room.

Four years old is too young to recognize the grandeur that is, “The great outdoors.” Max wasn’t very impressed at first and went into a wailing fit when he accidentally stepped in water and got his shoes wet. I watched as the other boys, who were obviously “farm kids,” ran around in their cowboy boots, wranglers, and snap front western shirts, running circles around my boy. They would fall down and bounce back up ready to do it all again. Then there was my boy, who wearing the Crocs his mom had bought him, was obviously at a disadvantage. Although he loves to run and play, he can be a little sensitive to impacts with the ground and does not tend to react with the same enthusiasm the other boys had when they fell. I was also a little conscious of the fact that I was the only father watching the pack of boys as they ran to and from each point of interest.

After about two hours of running, jumping, fishing, sliding, falling, and playing, my son had had enough. It was an hour past his dinner time and the food would not be ready anytime soon. He was grumpy and tired and not in the mood to wait around for dinner. Once again I decided to forgo tradition. I loaded him and his 8 year old cousin into the truck and drove 5 miles to a roadside pizza restaurant.

It was one of the high points of the trip, as I sat across the table with them eating pizza. We talked and joked around and had a great time. The pizza and soda pops did the trick. After a few minutes everyone was in a better mood and ready to go back to the campsite and finish out the evening.

That night in the hotel room my son could not stop talking, he was so excited to be “camping.” He finally talked himself to sleep and I was able to get some sleep too.

When I woke up in the morning, I had a few minutes to just look at him before he woke up. His face was so perfect and peaceful. I thought about how five years ago I had no hope of ever having a son to take on the Fathers and Sons outing. After dealing with infertility and spending so much time waiting for an adoption opportunity, it seemed hopeless that we would be able to grow our family. But there he was, quietly sleeping next to me. He is truly a miracle.

It was at that moment I came to a conclusion. Even though these outings don’t always turn out the way we think they should, the important part is spending time one on one with these kids. The rest of the day was cold and we went home early, but it was a great experience for my son. It was his first of many memories to come through spending time with his dad. I can’t wait for the next one.