Do you ever notice how some of the best memories come from things that were frustrating or unpleasant at the time? They turn into stories that get told and retold at family reunions or gatherings, followed by copious amounts laughter. I try to remind myself in the midst of everyday parenting frustrations that “someday this will make me laugh. Not today. But someday!” Our first family camping trip is one that I greatly look forward to laughing over for years to come…now that I have recovered.
The morning started off somewhat well. I had been awake since 5 dealing with a sneaky son who was in the living room watching tv, but otherwise we were all alert and ready for the day. We had loaded the trailer up the night before and had everything packed and ready. We got everyone strapped in and passed the first test of getting out of our driveway. Five minutes down the road I realized I had forgotten coffee mugs, and everyone’s pillows. The pillows I could live without, the coffee mugs not so much. If you have ever driven a trailer (and had four overly excited children in your car) you know you cannot simply turn around and go back home. It requires some strategy. So to avoid that much mental calculation we did the next best thing. We went to Walmart. I had gone on an epic shopping trip the day before to prepare for our adventure, but today was a grab and dash. I highly offended my children by only buying pillows for Franz and I. Life goes on.
Once again on the road, my worrier of a husband anxiously watched the temperature gauge as we climbed the steeper hills, while the kids literally asked every five minutes if we were there yet. It would have been helpful if we were certain where “there” was. We had had a last minute change of plans as to which campground, and neither of us were familiar with it. We followed directions, found the right road, and began the descent. “Almost there!” we kept saying. Fifteen minutes of driving, and we finally found the campground…the very full of people campground. Ok. Well, what now? There was another sign saying another campground just down the road. We were feeling adventurous still, so we went for it. We drove, and we drove, and we drove, down a very dusty, bumpy gravel road for what felt like forever, until we finally happened upon another car. Signs of life was reassuring at that point. The very nice man assured us that in another five miles or so we would find the next campground. We smiled and said thank you, and then my OCD husband, who had been lamenting how dirty the trailer was getting, just couldn’t handle it anymore. We turned around.
Back up the dusty, bumpy, gravel road as our children wailed that we had promised to go camping, and why were we turning around?? By the time we made it back to the highway our misadventure had taken just under an hour. It was lunch time, everyone was hungry, I was exhausted, and to say it was tense in our car would be an understatement. We turned back onto the highway and three quarters of our children announced they needed to pee. Fantastic. At least they all have the easily accessible equipment required to pee alongside the road. I really wanted to take a picture of them all lined up, but felt that would be an unforgivable offense someday. I took a picture of the sky instead. As frustrated and overwhelmed as I felt, I felt a sense of peace looking at the clouds and the trees.
Everybody back in, another ten minutes down the road and we arrived at the campground I had wanted to go to in the first place. Ahem. We passed a bunch of great spots, but they appeared to be reserved so we drove on. Later we realized the white claim slips clipped to the posts were from people who had already left, and nobody had bothered to take them down. Lesson learned for next time! We found an acceptable spot towards the end of a loop, and staked our claim. It was a slightly precarious situation, on a hill, with some of the pavement crumbling, but we made it work.
The kids couldn’t wait to eat lunch in the trailer. I doled out salami and cheese, chips and Gatorade and enjoyed a little silence while their mouths were full. It was brief. Our wobbly table gave up trying to stand and pinned my leg to the seat while drinks and food flew everywhere. It felt like slow motion as I watched it happen, unable to do anything to stop it. The kids stared open mouthed and I couldn’t decide if I should laugh or swear or both. Franz rescued me, and hauled out the now soaked cushion to dry while I was surrounded by concerned boys who insisted on checking my leg. Having assured them I was fine, they ran off to enjoy that rite of childhood camping: riding bikes somewhat unsupervised. Hope contented herself with running back and forth in front of the campsite flapping her hands and shrieking when they passed. They loved it. While they were occupied, I sat in the trailer and just stared out the window, listening to the Eric Church cd Franz had put on, letting my mind wander.
I have heard it said before: “there is no such thing as a family vacation, it’s just parenting in a different location” and I would agree with that. We decided to go get ice cream from the snack shack just down the road by the lake. It is seriously less than a five minute drive and somehow we both wanted to ship two of our children off to boarding school by the time we parked. We managed to get the ice cream without further incident and went to sit by the water. Peaceful it was not. Fending off our oldest son’s complaints over our refusal to rent boats, keeping the twins from diving into the icy water fully clothed, and appeasing the toddler with frequent licks of ice cream was enough to drive us to distraction.
One of my favorite parts of that day was after we had pried our children away from the lake, sticky and cranky, and trooped down the hill behind our trailer. There was a big open field and a very quiet road, so Franz got to fly his drone, and the kids got to run free and ride their bikes. It was a relaxing forty five minutes, just being outside together. No agenda, nowhere to be.
We watched a storm slowly move in, and made it back to the trailer just as some rain drops started to fall. I lounged inside while the “men” and Hopie worked on getting dinner together. Hot dogs and beans, ‘cause we’re fancy.
After dinner we decided to go for a family stroll around the campground. We lost Kasey for about ten minutes, but other than completely traumatizing him and gaining some more gray hairs it was pleasant.
Nighttime called for a fire and smores of course, and the boys practically danced around the flames. It must be some primitive manly instinct because Hope and I were more than content to sit and watch them. Well, she did manage to tip her camp chair over and get a mouth full of dirt, but that was more because she actually seemed a tad scared of the fire than from any desire to get closer to it.
The next test of our forbearance came when it was time to bathe the kids and start bedtime. I think we can all agree the only reason one buys a trailer is so one can use the facilities and take a warm shower when one chooses. However that only works if the water heater chooses to function properly. The kids thought it was the best thing ever to take freezing cold baths. More power to them. Mama opted for a handful of wet wipes and a willful determination to ignore the feeling of dirtiness. From there the experience really just went downhill. We got the boys down for bed alright, but poor Hopie had missed her nap, and was so tired it took her a bit to finally pass out. She was awake again at midnight terrified of everything. She is so used to her own space that having us be there with her completely threw her off, and literally every move we made sent her into hysterics, complete with screaming and shaking. Franz’s feet caused several meltdowns and my hands reaching for her caused her to launch herself across the pop out onto her daddy. It was comical in an “I am so dang tired and I want to scream” kinda way. The heat going out, and the battery dying (causing a piercingly loud and persistent alarm to sound) were just bonuses. Around 4:30 in the morning Franz gave up attempting to sleep and slipped outside to hook everything up for a speedy getaway. Hope finally fell asleep around 5:30…about the same time her brothers all woke up, perky and ready for their day.
At that point I had been awake for nearly twenty four hours, and my ability to speak coherently was failing. Recognizing my inability to function as a mother, Franz had kindly made breakfast for everyone, and we all sat together, sans wobbly table, with our plates in our laps while Hope snored behind us. The boys wanted to ride their bikes again, but as it was only 6am we decided we didn’t want to give our poor neighbors any more reasons to hate us. They grumbled, but we found some joy in getting to use our shiny new percolator. That coffee was extra strong, and I think I downed three cups. Coffee is life, friends.
We loaded everyone back up in the car, pajamas and all, and headed home. We were in our driveway by 8:30, looking dirty and bedraggled, and feeling like winners of Survivor. Franz keeps saying what a great time it was, and how he can’t wait to go again, and for a week or two the best I could do was to not kick him when he said it. But it’s funny how after a while the bad things lose their sting, and the good stuff comes to the forefront and lingers in your mind. Maybe it was hard, and rough, and chaotic and crazy, but it was a memory I’m glad we made together. Now anytime I hear a certain Eric Church song I can almost smell the trees and the hint of campfire smoke, hear the kids playing outside, and feel the rough fabric of the seat beneath my hands where I sat watching them. This could be the coffee talking, but I might even be ready to go again…