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Tent lessons

The first trip Big Daddy and I ever took together, way back on Memorial Day weekend in 1997, was a camping weekend in Williamsburg, Virginia. We stayed in a KOA Kabin, and we both remember it as the weekend we fell in love for real. Sappy, yes. We were married three Memorial Days later. What better way to celebrate our 11th anniversary than by taking our kids to the place we fell in love?

Well, actually, in hindsight, I can think of about 100 better ways to celebrate our anniversary and learn.

We learned a few other things this weekend, which we will forever call our Williamsburg Camping Adventure 2011:

(1) Be wary of any campground that purposefully spells its name with a K. As in Kampground. The only nice thing I can say about this particular KOA is that the bathrooms were remarkably klean. Which is a big deal, really, to anyone who's camped in any number of state parks around the country. But there is no privacy. At all. The kampsites are shoe-horned in; we went through four sites before we found one that could actually fit our 17' x 10' tent. And even then we had to park the kar in the roadway. We could hear our neighbors breathing all night. Not snoring -- breathing! -- that's how klose we were. (By the way, the six over-cheerful Howdy Doodys in the kamp office couldn't find their way out of a paper bag, let alone solve a reservation problem. We had to find our own site, then tell them where it was.)

(2) Things will probably not go according to plan. For example, by the time you find a suitable campsite, a fierce thunderstorm will roll in. Then you will realize you don't have a tarp to go under your tent, so you'll have to go to Walmart to buy one. By the time you get back from Walmart and set up the tent, the campers will be tired and hungry and really only want to swim in the pool. Once you get them fed and off to the pool, they'll discover the pool gate is locked. Then they'll go to the camp office, where Howdy and Doody will tell them to go to the sister campground 1/4-mile up the road. So they'll come back and get the car, drive to the sister campground, and learn that the pool is closed for cleaning. Later that night, the pool will be drained -- and its water will rush by your tent, about 4 feet from your pillow. Thank goodness you got that tarp, right?

(3) Don't set your heart on relaxing on your camping trip. Especially if you're traveling with a 14-month-old who only recently learned how to walk. Do you know how many rocks and roots and holes and hills there are to stumble upon? We were in our site for all of 7 minutes before Zippy face-planted and came up with a mouth full of pebbles, a nose full of snotty dirt, and a big ol' goose egg on his forehead. Actually, now that I think of it, don't camp with a 14-month-old. That'll be easier.

Yep, that's a toad.

(4) There will be plenty of creepy, crawly things that would ordinarily freak you out, but since you're camping, whatever! There will be frogs leaping at your legs as you walk through the dark to the bathroom. And perhaps a red-eyed cicada will fall into your breakfast cereal. You will probably also have to pick up and set aside the granddaddy of all daddy-long-leggers so you can unzip the tent flap. You will pick a tick off your arm when you first wake up in the morning; you most likely will be bitten by some mystery bug scurrying inside the back of your shirt as you drift off to sleep at night. You will pretend to be unfazed by all this creepy-crawly stuff because your 5-year-old is being really brave about it all, too. Yay, nature!

(5) BYOF: Bring your own firewood. Because the wood they sell at the camp store for $7/bundle really kinda sucks. Perhaps it was just cut that afternoon; perhaps it was stacked in a puddle. Whatever the case, it will not light. Which means you should also BYOLF -- bring your own lighter fluid -- so you can at least have a quick flare-up fire on which your 5-year-old can happily warm a marshmallow.

What's that you say? S'mores? No way I'm sleeping!
(6) Allow yourself double the time to accomplish even the simplest tasks. Want to cook a quick franks-and-beans meal on your camp stove? Give yourself a full hour (because you first have to set up the camp stove, then try to light the stove and discover you have to re-hook up the propane because it's upside down, then dump over the mess bags you threw in the back of the car because you can't find the can opener, then turn down the heat on the stove because you scorched the beans to a mushy mess, then open another can of beans...). Need to get yourself and your kids dressed so you can meet your friends at the theme park by 9am? Get up at 7. Think you can get that baby to sleep so you can enjoy some peace by the camp-smoke? Definitely count on one-and-a-half hours for that.

(7) Embrace your dirtiness. You will be caked in sunblock, bugspray, sweat, and dirt for the extent of your adventure, regardless of how long you spend in the super-clean shower. Forget the make-up because it's just going to run down your face anyway. And tie a bandanna in your hair, too, because there's no taming that beast this weekend.

(8) If the forecast says 95+ degrees for the extent of your trip, stay in a hotel. Period. Otherwise you will sweat your sweet bippies off all day, and you will not cool off in your tent at night. In fact, while you're out sweating your bippies off, your tent will be soaking up all the heat and humidity and hugging it into your sleeping bag. Until about 4am, when you will wake up shivering because somehow the temperature has plummeted and your baby is crying because of it. (And the people sleeping in the campsite five feet from your head will not appreciate the 4am crying baby!)


  1. No advice never rang more true! Bought camping equipment for our first anniversary and used it lots. When M was only 15 months we went with him. After we experienced many of the same things as you with the addition of him continually puling up the tent stakes (we were at a beach locale), we laid the camping ideal to rest. Now our sons joyfully use it, so it has not gone to waste. Just wait till they have kids. Ssshhhhhh, I'm not telling them about the fun!

  2. That's why our 1st attempt at camping was in the back yard. Needless to say that the Princess, my angel & I all slept in the house & Daddy & the prince were the only ones who slept in the tent. You guys are braver than me :)


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