Camping with Kids
● By Style
Illustration by Aaron Roseli
I’m no Bear Grylls.
I’ve never sheltered in the body cavity of a dead camel, no matter how thirsty I get I don’t think I could squeeze a drink from wet elephant dung, and I’m not British. But is Grylls really that extreme? I say no. If so, he’d bring his kids along. Oh, how different it would be for Mr. Elite Survivalist then. It’s hard enough to get a five-year-old to eat burnt campfire pancakes for breakfast. Good luck with beetle larvae. You think scrambling down a sheer ice cliff is tough? Try it with a whiny kindergartner who has to go potty.
The outdoors with kids is hard. It requires work and effort, plus lots of sunscreen and Handi Wipes. Take the Donner Party, for example. Before they arrived at the lake now bearing their name, they’d been camping nonstop for six months. My theory? They weren’t incompetent travelers. Their kids’ whining forced them to attempt that late fall trans-Sierra-crossing (“Badger for dinner again? YUCK!”). The first “Are we there yet?” probably happened before they ever crossed the Missouri River. Then there was Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada. Those states are boring enough just to fly over. And by the Great Salt Lake even the dimmest Donner Party young’ins probably figured out that “Don’t make me turn this wagon train around!” was nothing but an empty threat. You’d try crossing the Sierra in a blizzard, too.
When we were newly married and delusional – i.e., pre-children – my wife and I figured we would camp often with our “someday” family. We already did quite a bit then. We loved the outdoors and were certain we would share that love with any children lucky enough to get us as parents. We would pitch our tent at the base of a different rainbow every summer weekend and watch unicorn herds graze peacefully as the sun set into blankets of cotton candy clouds with John Denver serenading us from the picnic table. (And not just a cassette of John Denver, the actual John Denver. We dreamed big.) Our campsites would be places where dust never stuck to runny noses, compost toilets smelled like bakeries, and hornets only landed on children to sing them lullabies. Yes, ours would be some dang-lucky kids.
Needless to say, that didn’t happen. Oh, we gave it a try with our first child and it wasn’t bad. But looking back, I realize our success wasn’t due to fabulous parenting skills but simple math (there were two of us and one of her). That dynamic was completely upended, however, with the arrival of our next two, Sam and Joe, who liked to do things like climb boulders naked, make Mom bouquets of wildflowers and poison oak, and throw Dad’s wallet in the campfire.
We tried. Mother Nature knows we did. But we haven’t pitched a tent in years. It’s too much work.
All this isn’t to say we spend our weekends inside waiting for the pizza guy. We still love the outdoors and enjoy them as much as anyone we know. But mostly we do day trips and for that, we are blessed to live in one of the greatest places on Earth. Where else can you leave your house at 8:30 a.m. on a summer morning and a couple hours later be hiking up to an alpine lake or running down an ocean beach? Ironically, it has allowed us to enjoy our time outside more.
Please don’t take this as a missive against camping. It’s not. All I’m reluctantly admitting to is that we don’t do it. To those of you who can, my hat’s off to you. You’re better than we are. Heck, you’re better than Bear Grylls.