Daddy Talk: The Joys of the Outdoors
My wife and I have always valued camping, but we realized recently that we have not prioritized family campout since before our youngest child was born—three years ago! We have now corrected that oversight and visited a few campgrounds in the last couple months, but I’ve learned that camping with the family is a bit more complicated than I remember from three years ago.
One process that’s always fun for me is pulling out the old camping gear—camp stove, sleeping bags, the works. I love the feeling that I don’t need all the luxuries and comforts of home; just a few basic items to get me through a few nights. When I camp with “the guys,” I usually take two bags and a cooler of food; those provisions will last me several days. Of course, if you’re taking your three kids along, the “basics” are not as basic as they used to be. But when I pack for the whole family, the minivan is so loaded by the end that the back bumper nearly drags along the ground, and I’m afraid to open the door for fear that all the camping gear will come shooting out, like a champagne cork. And these provisions will last us one night.
Another common joy of camping is relaxing by the fire and sleeping out under the stars, or at least inside a small tent, still immersed in the quiet of nature. Here, again, the experience with kids differs slightly from the ideal. First, as soon as you get the fire going, small boys proceed to poke it with their sticks until they essentially put it out, so that you have to start building it again from scratch. There is one advantage to this, though. Without the fire it’s so dark by 6:30 p.m. in the woods this time of year that the kids think it is bedtime. So, you end up going to bed because there’s nothing to do—you know, like in the old days before electric lights. The peacefulness of the tent is exquisite and refreshing. That is, until your three-year-old wakes up screaming at 2:00 a.m. and cannot be consoled until you put her in your sleeping bag. But it’s at that point you realize it’s now 35 degrees outside and you’re sort of glad that you have another warm body in your sleeping bag to decrease your risk of frostbite.
As early as bedtime comes in the woods, wake-up time comes just as early, because as soon as a ray of sunshine strikes your tent and illumines it with the arriving morn, all the kids awaken simultaneously and begin wrestling on top of you. Typically, I’m the first one out of the tent because I’m tired of being trampled on. Wanting to brew some coffee, I begin making a breakfast fire…which one of my children promptly snuffs out with a poking stick. This is a good time to send your kids on a “nature hike” in the woods. They can collect artifacts that will make them feel like explorers, more connected to the natural world. Last time we went camping, my kids found an old rusty refrigerator that someone had dumped on a trail.
So whether you prefer setting up a tent at a primitive site or renting a cabin at a state park, I highly endorse camping as a way to give your family a break from the routine weekend and experience what the outdoors has to offer. Just don’t be surprised if doing it with kids differs from your ideal. Somewhere along the way someone is going to go off script, and a tent will probably collapse while someone is in it.