The beauty of ‘camping’
Updated: September 17, 2012 11:49AM
At some point every summer, my husband muses, “I think I’ll plan a camping trip.”
“Sounds fun,” I say encouragingly, because there is nothing I like more than a camping trip, especially our family’s version of camping.
We do all the traditional camping activities: pitching a tent, cooking over a fire, going on long hikes. It’s just that I don’t go with them. In fact, I’ve found that the only way I love camping is to not go camping.
Numerous research documents the importance of kids getting back to nature. Get them away from TVs, cell phones, Facebook and PlayStation and you can really bond as a family and get to know each other. It’s wholesome. It’s cheap with a dish of beauty and fresh air on the side.
It’s just that I can’t seem to do it.
I tried, lured by the concept of taking a step back from our normal hectic lives and unplugging for a few days.
I love the idea of waking up in the fresh air, playing card games at a picnic table while dinner cooks and telling stories under the stars.
I just like the idea more than the reality.
After a few failed attempts, I came to the sad realization that I am not a camper. I can’t get beyond the lumpy air mattress, the shared bathrooms, the sand and dirt everywhere. I never feel clean and frankly, I have trouble sleeping in all that fresh air combined with all those animal noises.
It’s come to the point where I am now forbidden by my husband to go on those camping trips. And this is what makes me now love camping.
Camping now means that I have the house to myself for two to three glorious days. As a bonus, my four children are getting all the fresh air and beauty and back-to-nature experiences that they so richly need.
I want them to have all those experiences. I want them to take long hikes, I want my teenage girls to go a day or two without washing their hair, I want them to eat pancakes off a campfire and sleep in a tent and catch lightning bugs at night. I just don’t want to go anymore.
My husband has always been an avid camper. As soon as our oldest two were big enough, he and a friend started camping in various scenic parks. I encouraged their interest with the caveat that I couldn’t possibly camp with a child in diapers or who napped.
This worked great for a few years. He would enthusiastically take the older kids who were ready to hike and help pitch a tent and off they’d go. I’d spend time with the babies and toddlers. It wasn’t time alone, but with four kids, any shake-up in the numbers game is a welcome break.
When the time finally came when they could all camp, and all wanted to camp, off I went on the adventure, gazing wistfully behind me at me now-quiet, civilized house. My memory-foam pillow and pillow-top mattress seemed to silently mock me.
Maybe the world can be divided into two types of people: those who like to camp and those who don’t. I wasn’t brought up with camping although I really did try. But one trip was stiflingly hot, the next depressingly rainy.
I was undone by a three-day vacation outdoor adventure to Door County, Wis., where every darling B&B, every quaint coffee shop and that restaurant with the goats on the roof just rubbed salt in my wounds. At the end of the day we’d wind our way back to our campsite with its permanently damp towels hung on the line and the smell of campfire engrained in every fiber of our clothes. I dubbed it “Hooverville” and my husband disinvited me from future trips, claiming I wasn’t into the proper spirit of the weekend.
Writers such as Henry Thoreau and Virginia Woolf have written long, exploratory narratives about the importance of solitude. We all have a fundamental need to be alone, to think, to recharge. And perhaps this is what I need more than a hike in the woods. At no time is it more difficult to be alone than when you are the parent of young children.
I instead choose to “camp” on my couch stockpiled with books and movies and a glass of chilled wine and escape to the fresh air of my home when it’s not full of stinky soccer shoes, uneaten sandwiches and towels that weren’t hung out to try.
That’s my idea of fresh air.