On Labor Day weekend, Hubs and I take the girls camping with a big group of friends. Well, really, I should say “camping.” No tents for this mama. Nuh-uh. We’re talking a (tiny) cabin with a/c and a TV. Less camping, more “woodsy relocation.” But there is no wi-fi and I have to hand-wash all the dishes, so I am totally roughing it.
As a kid and young adult I was a bit more, ah, hearty when it came to camping. I went to an overnight camp in the New York Finger Lakes region. First I was a camper for years, then a counselor. I adored everything about it: the cabins, the lake, the friends, the fun. And yes, actual camping in a tent, too.
One super awesome part about being a counselor had nothing to do with camp: our counselor-only camping weekend at Stoney Brook Park. One or two weekends a summer, after the last kids were headed home with their parents, we zoomed out of camp and straight to Stoney Brook and its river, waterfalls, and beautiful swimming spots. We had waaaaaay too much fun there on those weekends. Very non-kid-friendly fun.
I was reminiscing about those Stoney Brook days when I was camping with my kids, and thinking about how different camping is now, as a parent, versus then, as a carefree 20-year-old.
Really, really different.
Then: You grabbed your trusty backpack and stuffed in a bathing suit, towel, pjs, change of clothes, sweatshirt, toothbrush/toothpaste, lighter, and a flashlight. Plus your sleeping bag and pillow. Maybe your makeup, in case Mr. Handsome Counselor was going, too. Off you went.
Now: Set aside a full day to pack. Print out three packing checklists: one for you, one for the kids, one for camping essentials.
Pack for each kid: six different outfits, two or three bathing suits, sweatshirts, water shoes, rain gear, stuffed animals, their favorite movies and activities (in case of rain), shampoo, soap, and about 247 other things.
Don’t forget bath towels for everyone. Beach towels for everyone. Bedding for everyone. Campfire chairs, bikes and helmets, and fishing poles for everyone.
Be sure to pack all those miscellaneous camping necessities! Bug spray, sunscreen, an enormous first aid kit, Tylenol (for the kids and especially you), glow sticks and at least ten flashlights for your kids who are afraid of the dark and weird outdoor noises. Yet they love camping. Go figure.
Okay, you’re done. Phew. Double-check your lists.
And then realize you never actually packed for yourself.
Throw some of your things in a duffel bag 10 minutes before you leave and hope you remembered underwear and a toothbrush.
Must-bring food and beverages
Then: Stop at tiny local grocery store and grab hot dogs, rolls, ketchup, chips, a watermelon (to fill with vodka), and s’mores fixings. Plus some napkins, plates, and plastic silverware. Oh, and at least four cases of beer. And some water. And some bagels for a hangover breakfast, because that’s about all your stomach can handle the next morning.
Figure you’ll run out to the store during the weekend when you need to. Or maybe you’ll buy food at the camp store. Whatever. It’ll work out.
Now: Meticulously plan out a menu (plus snack options!) for each day because you know you’ll never be able to leave the cabin once you get there. Go on huge grocery shopping trip and spend about $300. Dig out huge cooler to transport perishables. Pack six reusable bags full of food. And don’t forget the Keurig. Or the wine. Or your four cases of beer (that part never changes).
Rise and shine time
Then: Sleep in. Lounge around. Have beer and bagels.
Now: Get up at the crack of dawn due to early-rising kids who have no light-blocking curtains in their room. Commence day exactly as you would at home, just at a God-awful hour in the morning, in less space, with less amenities, and without your kids’ favorite TV shows.
Then: Swim. Sunbathe. Eat chips. Drink beer. Smoke cigarettes, because you are young and invincible.
Now: Mediate among children who want to do completely different things all. day. long. Sneak in a beer when you can to dull your ever-increasing anxiety. Crave cigarettes, because you are old and stressed.
Then: Roast hot dogs and s’mores. Eat spiked watermelon. Go night swimming (bathing suit optional). Drink more beer. Keep an eye on Mr. Handsome Counselor and evaluate your chances of not ending up in your sleeping bag alone.
Now: Bug spray everyone because TICKS, people. Outfit kids with glow sticks and flashlights. Help kids make s’mores and keep them from lighting themselves on fire. Finally sit down in front of the campfire with friends while the kids run around like maniacs. Hope they are safe-ish because you are not getting your butt out of that chair until meltdowns indicate it’s bedtime.
Packing up to leave
Then: Wake up (hopefully with Mr. Handsome Counselor). Throw all your crap in your bag and leave.
Now: See “packing essentials” process above – just do it all in reverse. Oh, and clean the cabin, too, or you could lose your security deposit. Then pray your kids didn’t ruin anything, get the hell out of there, and book it back to civilization, wi-fi, and Starbucks.
Camping with my kids is still fun. It is, I swear. But just not the same kind of fun…