My memories of camping take me back to the Virginia woods which were dark and damp. The tents would be covered in daddy-longlegs spiders and the girls in my girl scout group would be awed by their sheer numbers and size but were not daunted by their spiderness. What did daunt us was The Latrine (an outhouse). We would go there ALWAYS with a partner and we would shine our flashlights all around the inside including the toilet seat and just beneath the toilet seat to check for the non daddy-longlegs variety of spiders and/or dead bodies or dead body parts.
This was an activity of great drama and tension and fear and exhilaration - all the best of modern tv in our own real lives.
We performed this activity with squeals and screams and giggles and also outrage when our partner closed the door on us or turned off the flashlight. Camping in Virginia was nothing like camping in Alaska.
In Alaska, you don't need a flashlight at all during the summer. When you leave your tent in the middle of the night, you can clearly see if there are spiders or bears or rattlesnakes or other scary creatures. Even better, there aren't very many spiders (up where we live) and there are no snakes that I know of. There are, however, a lot of mosquitoes and there is the true chance of an encounter with a non-friendly bear, but somehow, in the light, things aren't so ominous as those dark summer woods of my youth.
Except that now I have kids.
We took them camping this weekend for the first time. We expected it to be an "Intro to Camping" kind of thing, and along with our newly realized awareness that we need to Adjust the Expectations, we went into the outdoors feeling pretty much like we could embrace any and all glitches.
We forgot about the light.
Our kids did great hauling stuff from the car. They did great helping to set up the tent and unroll their sleeping bag. They ate their dinner, explored the area and we went on an evening walk. The weather was phenomenal and the mosquitoes were few and soon it was 9:00 and very much our kids' bed time. We got them into their pj's and read them books and tucked them into the sleeping bags and all was good.
They lay in their bags and looked quietly at books.
But they didn't nod off.
We double curtain their windows at home to make a semi-dark bedroom at night. The tent doesn't have that ability. Nine thirty it might have been, but inside that tent, it was as good as five. Our kids did not fall asleep. And the longer they did not fall asleep, the tireder they became and the more difficult it became for them to fall asleep. It was a nasty little spiral of a catch-22 and little boy's eyes became wider and wider in their frantic wide-awake-exhaustion of not being able to relax.
Of course, it was not just the light that was the problem. Sleeping in a tent in a new sleeping bag is exciting stuff and also very new stuff - definitely not the cozy warm routine of home, but boy, last night, I remember looking at the tent walls and just wishing they would darken up some and help out this process. (The birds did not help out either. I don't think they every even considered going to sleep.)
Around midnight both kids finally did fall asleep and all was relatively good until 4 am when (still light outside) little boy woke up and nothing felt right. He was oh-so-tired and oh-so-distressed and I was thankful there were no other people camping nearby. Nobody was camping nearby because it's still FREEZING (literally) out at night and while little boy was not freezing himself, he was not toasty roasty warm and everything just felt wrong.
But finally, after almost an hour of trying songs and stories and cuddling, he climbed into my mummy bag and asked to sleep on top of my tummy. So he did, just like when he was a baby and it was sweet and we both warmed right up, but let me tell you - sleeping on my back with my little big boy on my stomach and chest does not make for a comfortable sleep!
Eventually we rolled to the side and he slept in till nine. We did too. It was a successful night.
And the next best part was that as we dressed and stretched and felt the warmth of the new day, our friends opened up their back door (for we were on their property out of town) and said that coffee was ready. We all smiled and went inside for a great breakfast of pancakes with tundra blueberries from last season and plenty of Kona coffee brewed in a French Press.
And after that, we went back to our tent, dressed in our rain pants and boots and trekked down to the river before picnicking on salami and cheese and attempting naps.
Little girl fell right asleep in the now-very-warm tent.
Little boy fell asleep TWO hours later.
It was a long two hours trying to get him to relax and fall asleep. He had trouble falling asleep as a baby and we got to re-witness that again. But we knew that if he did take a nap, he'd have an easier time doing it again in the future so we stuck to our guns and just kept hanging out.
And now we are home with pizza for dinner and a very proud little boy and little girl who think they did a marvelous job camping and seem to be open to going out again next weekend if the weather allows.
More from parenting