The Joys of Camping (and Happy Father’s Day!)

With desperation, I clutch my travel mug of wine while Alice clings to me, wailing away. Henry is running back and forth across the floor of the six-man tent, staggering like a drunken sailor, screeching at random and occasionally jumping on Ada who is hopelessly trying to save herself by curling up in the corner of the tent. She looks at me with anguished eyes.

I feel you, Ada, I feel you. 
The walls of the tent buckle with the force of the high winds and the tent fly flaps angrily overhead. 
It is all unraveling and I am paralyzed. 
Instead of trying to soothe Alice or attempt to get Henry to calm down, I do nothing- nothing at all, but sip on my red wine and have a good cry. Sometimes, that is all that you can do. 
The unravelling 
_____________________________
Back track to a few weeks ago:
I stand in the kitchen flipping through our family calendar that maps out our daily lives. In bold letters, I write “CAMPING” across the second weekend in June. 
With satisfaction, I announce to Blake, “We are going taking the kids camping!” From the couch, Blake casts a doubtful look in my direction, but stays silent. Classic.

I persist, “I grew up camping, Blake, and all of my best childhood memories were of us kids outside. I want our kids to have that too.” 

“It’s not going to work, Celia. They’re too young; we live on the lake. Why don’t we just stay here and camp in the back yard?”
“It’s not the same,” I counter. “When you married me, you promised that we would always have adventures. We can’t let having kids get in the way!” My shrill voice teeters. “We have to take the kids camping! I want us to have a family adventure!”
He looks up finally from his laptop and smiles. “Ok, ok! Fine, we can go camping.”
I grin. It’s settled. I circle “CAMPING” on the calendar twice just to make it official. 
_____________________________
I get it. Spending time outdoors away from the comforts of home is not everyone’s cup of tea. There is the weather, the bugs, the dirt, the hassle, etc. But when you’re a kid, its about skinny dipping, catching that big fish, fighting your siblings for the cherry in the can of fruit cocktail, living in your bathing suit, playing games of Risk on your sleeping mat and eating endless summer sausage with cheese.  I am lucky enough to have parents who fostered a love for the outdoors and always gave us opportunities to go on canoe trips as a family. As I said, my most vivid and treasured memories are from those days in the wilderness. 
Of course, things didn’t always go smoothly. Like that time when I was about 7 and was waist-deep in mud on a ‘portage trail’ that ended up just being a swamp with no trail at all. Or the time that my Dad found me happily playing, naked of course, in a thick patch of poison ivy.
But what I remember most was sitting around the campfire being entertained by my little brother’s stand-up comedy routines, not having to brush my hair, feeling accomplished when I could finally portage a canoe on my own at 12 and snuggling in the tent at the end of a full day of fun. 
I wouldn’t have changed a thing about those family canoe trips. They were the best. 

Mom, Johnny, me and Leah one a family canoe trip
______________________________
I was optimistic in the week leading up to our first camping trip as a family.  I spent two days prepping food, planning meals, organizing equipment, packing the bags and loading everything into the car. I should have realized that our outdoor excursion might have be doomed from the start when, on Saturday morning, there was a weather advisory in place due to high winds, hail and rain. Nevertheless, after the worst of the storm was over, at my insistence, we pressed on to nearby Objiway Provincial Park, a mere 20 minutes down the road.

Riding on the coat tails of my dear friend Lianne and her family, we piggy-backed onto a pre-organized group camping affair comprised of a number of local families with young children. I have never camped so closely with so many people, but it ended up being a blast.

The kids were entertained and all played well together on the beach, in the water, on their bikes and along the zipline that a few of the dads rigged up. We had a great afternoon and feasted on campfire veggie dogs for dinner. The kids were loving it up and everything seemed to be going smoothly.

Slack-lining, biking, ziplining!

The zipline

Henry kept saying, “Let’s go on a little adventure!”
Which meant hiking a little trail in the woods near our campsite that went to a
bridge connecting to a tiny island. He loved it!

However, the situation changed after dinner as the wind picked up. Blake had to leave us to tend to our boats at home that were blowing off their moorings. That left me, alone, with the kids to do bedtime. Yes, you know where this is going…

Because the kids hadn’t napped in the afternoon, they were both over-tired, hot messes and despite my efforts along with Lianne’s generous help, it all fell to pieces.

By 10:30pm, I called Blake to come rescue us and braced for his “I told you so” while I packed up the tent in the dark with two screaming children. My disappointment surged through my hot tears. How could we be the adventuring family that I envisioned if we couldn’t even get through one single night of car camping?!

When Blake pulled into the campsite, Henry was holding his bike in one hand and had his camp chair flung over his opposite shoulder. “Let’s go home!” Henry exclaimed. I had to laugh. What an epic disaster!

That night, after the kids were finally settled in their beds, Blake pulled me close. “I’m so sorry that it didn’t work out. Thank you for all of your work in trying.” His words soothed my battered pride. “We’ll try again another time, ” he assured me.

At that moment, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that in less than a month, we had a four-day camping trip booked to take the kids to the Winnipeg Folk Festival! Oh dear…  I think I’m going to secretly have to book a hotel!

On this Father’s Day, this blog post wouldn’t be complete without a special shout-out to Blake. Thank you for all that you do for our family. Without you, I wouldn’t be able to do the job that I love so dearly, to live in this gorgeous place and to be able to raise two bright, happy and active little ones. Thank you for your bending your good sense to my lofty plans, for not saying “I told you so” and for promising to try again.

Here’s to the many happy and not so happy camping adventures to come for our family with you by my side. We love you, Dad-Dad!

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