It seems to be one of those activities that people feel strongly about, in either direction. I have to admit, that I had been on the side of ‘no thanks,’ for a while. I was a Girl Scout for a decade. Between that, and camping with my father, I had felt all camped out by the time I reached adulthood. I didn’t feel compelled to sleep on the hard ground, or pee in the woods, or cook over an open flame any longer. I was good, I was set, and then I became a parent.
My son had been asking about camping for a couple of years. Admittedly, since I wasn’t in much of a hurry to do it again, I didn’t plan anything for him. I left it up to his father and my father, who’s jobs made them busy, and the opportunity just hadn’t come. So when my partner mentioned that she wanted to take him, I smiled and said that he’d like that.
At least, I hoped he would.
When introducing a child to something new, parents know that it’s going to be hit or miss. It can be something as simple as a new recipe for dinner, or something as complex as sleeping outside without plumbing or electricity. We know that it’s best to have a contingency plan or two in one’s back pocket when it comes to new experiences, just in case things go sideways.
During the planning process, as my mind started to open several browser tabs to cover all of my parenting what-if questions, my partner started to go over the plans that she had come up with, and I quickly realized that she had it covered. There was this loving relief that flowed through me when she went over everything, including how to keep us all safe and distant from others during this pandemic, and what we could do if our son decided he didn’t like it. Two nights were planned, with the full understanding that at any moment we might have to call it off.
Okay, loving relief is putting it lightly.
We had practiced first in the backyard, and that seemed to go well. He slept outside for the entire night, and there wasn’t any fear of the dark. Not that it got fully dark, but it was a great first step. With that in mind, we built his excitement for the real camping trip, and when the day arrived he was eager.
The first evening went well. We set up our site, cooked dinner on the fire, and our son was overjoyed when he was able to pee outside for the first time ever. By overjoyed I mean that he shouted that he did it, loud enough for the next (socially distant) campsite to hear. I know, I know, how is it that an 8 year old boy hadn’t done it before, but he’s lived in apartments, so there hasn’t been much in the way of privacy.
The evening went well. Sleep, however, was another story. There was tossing, and turning. There were stories on the Calm app, and a family of owls hooting loudly outside our tent. Eventually, in the early hours of the next morning, there was a small amount of sleep. I knew, without a doubt, that the lack of sleep would affect the rest of the trip in one way or another.
Groggy adults can be grumpy, or lack luster, but groggy, sleepy kids are another story. They have a harder time self regulating their emotions on a good day, because they’re still learning and growing. When lack of sleep is involved, this is multiplied tenfold. I kept a close eye on his mood as we moved through breakfast and our morning walk, both of which went well. He expressed on the walk that he wasn’t sure about sleeping outside that night, and we agreed that sleeping in beds was a good idea. We all needed the rest.
And then it hit him like a ton of bricks.
There were tears, big ones, as we got back to the camp site. He looked around and the conflicting emotions swelled inside of him, and spilled out. Part of him wanted to stay at the site for a while longer, while the rest of him was tired and wanted something more familiar. I took him into my arms and held space as he tried to explain what he was feeling, as he released the overwhelm and exhaustion.
As the emotions leveled out, my partner offered a solution; What if we set up the tent in the back yard again, and had s’mores out there with the fire pit? It was the best of both needs, since he would have access to the house and a bed, but still spend time in the tent and by the fire. He agreed, and even seemed excited for it, and we went to work packing up the campsite.
We had a wonderful time that night, too. There were multiple occasions where I glanced at her, at my partner, and felt grateful. I wasn’t alone in planning, or solutions. It was understood, without me having to explain, that flexibility is a must when it comes to parenting. There were no hard feelings when it came to cutting our trip in half, only loving, quality time together.