Camping with Kids (or, The Camping Apocalypse of 2017)
June 5, 2017
We took the kids camping last weekend. It was just a quick trip to celebrate the end of the school year and the beginning of summer. I had thought I could write a nice blog post about it – you know, 6 Tips for Camping with Kids, or something similar. I planned to take some sweet pictures of the kids fishing, snuggled in their tent, maybe sitting around the campfire. It was going to be great, trust me.
However, things don’t always turn out the way we plan. Mix together young children, the great outdoors, unpredictable weather, and a bunch of camping gear that’s over a decade old and you get…well, let’s just call it an adventure.
We arrived at the campground. The trip up there was pretty uneventful, as long as you are ok with taking detours down back country roads when traffic backs up on the interstate. It gave us an opportunity to play “spot the animal,” which I’m pretty sure I lost by default since I thought a chair was a goat. I also think my eight year old cheated when she said she saw two rabbits and a snake. The one year old spotted an elephant, at least I think that’s what that noise he made meant.
Two tents set up…check. Campfire started (with wet wood, thank you lighter fluid!)…check. Save toddler from falling in the campfire 25 times…check. Make s’mores while quoting The Sandlot multiple times…check. Everyone went to bed, and everyone slept through the night. Day 1 was a success! (If you don’t know what scene I’m talking about from The Sandlot, Google it…I’ll wait).
Most of this day went great, also. We ate breakfast, went fishing and went swimming in the lake. It was especially great for me, because we had friends there who are younger than us who have the energy and desire to play in a lake with a bunch of kids. So mostly I got to sit, watch and cheer at every “Mom, watch this!”
By 4pm we had made it back to our tents and were sitting around deciding whether we should have an early or late dinner. Cue rumbles of thunder in the distance.
It’s ok, no big deal, right? We’re camping pros after all, and a little rain wouldn’t hurt us. So we started dinner a bit early and ate round two of s’mores – still quoting The Sandlot, because that never gets old.
By 9pm the kids were bedded down in their tents (three girls in one and the baby in his play pen in our tent), when the thunder started getting a bit louder and the first drops started falling. My husband and I decided to sit out under the canopy that we had put over the picnic table to make sure the kids were all asleep before turning in ourselves.
15 minutes later, the bottom dropped out of the sky.
I’m not talking about a steady rain. I’m talking downpour, here. The kind of rain that makes it hard to see through, and is so loud that even without the crashing thunder that rolls through every 30 seconds, you still have to shout to be heard.
We faintly hear my oldest shouting from 15 feet away.
Layla: “THE TENT IS LEAKING!”
Sure enough, my husband runs through the rain to check on the girls, and water is coming through the top and sides of the tent, puddling around the kid’s sleeping bags. We quickly carry the girls through the rain and rapidly mud-filled campsite to our tent, where we put them in with an optimistic “Shhh, don’t wake the baby” before running out to get as much of their gear as possible out of the leaking tent.
By the time I get back to my tent, which now has a pack and play, a full-sized air mattress and three dripping girls with their stuffed animals, pillows and blankets, the baby is awake, laughing and throwing flashlights around in time with the lightning strikes.
Gwendolyn: “I’m scared.”
Me: “It’s ok, we’re having an adventure.”
Layla: “Mom, I’m all wet.”
Me: “I know, but it’s just a little water, we’ll be fine. Let me spread out your sleeping bags so you have somewhere to sleep.”
Sydney: “Mom, I just felt a drop.”
Me: (Looks up and simultaneously puts hand in a puddle of water while laying out a sleeping bag) “Oh s#!t.”
So I stuck my head out of my tent and yelled the good news to my husband, who was frantically bagging up kid clothes and throwing them in the cab of his pickup.
I ran out and after a frantic moment of discussion we decided to grab the extra tarp and rig it over our tent. That’s when we found the stream of runoff coming from the road down under our tent to head for the lake….Huh. Bummer.
While Aaron finished doing what he could to secure the tarp, I went back inside the tent to pull out as much of our gear as possible to put in the pickup.
Gwen: “I’m scared of the storm.”
Me: “Ok, do you want to say a prayer about it?”
Sydney: “Yes, please.”
Me: “Ok, bow your heads….Dear God, thank you for always taking care of us. Thank you for always being with us even in times of trouble.”
God please help me get through this night with six people in one tent.
“Just as Jesus calmed the storm for the disciples, we know that you can calm this storm.”
Please don’t let the wind start up, whatever you do.
“Thank you for all of us being together so we can keep each other calm and safe.”
Please don’t let a tree fall and hit our tent with everyone in it.
“Please help us to trust in you and not be afraid of the thunder and lightning.”
Oh. My. God. Please don’t let us get struck by lightning.
“In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
So the kids calmed down and my dripping husband finally made his way back to the tent. We changed into our last set of dry clothes and pulled the air mattress and playpen into the middle of the tent so the water coming down from the sides wouldn’t touch us.
Layla: “Mom, where are you guys going to sleep?”
Me: “Yeah, move over, kid.”
Two adults. Three kids ages five, eight and ten. One full-sized air mattress. No blankets because they had all gotten wet. Puddles of water on the ground. A five year old who kept trying to roll off the edge. An eight year old who likes to sleep curled in a ball. A baby who wants to keep throwing flashlights. Thunder and lightning. A ten year old who gets so freaked out by loud noises she hyperventilates. And then throws up.
Me: “Dang it, Layla! Did you just throw up on your brother?!”
Me: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, you’re ok. Aaron, can you pass me a towel?”
Aaron: “They’re all wet.”
Needless to say, only four of us got any sleep that night, and neither I nor my husband was one of them. I won’t say it was the worst camping trip I’ve ever taken, but I did learn a few lessons from it.
Tents apparently have a shelf life. Do not take an old tent on a camping trip when there is a chance of thunder storms. It’s not worth it.
Pay attention to the topography of your campsite. Don’t pitch your tent on the lowest spot or in the way of runoff areas.
Bring extra clothes and keep them in an emergency stash in the car.
Don’t hand the baby a flashlight and then sit within throwing distance.
Bring a net so when you’re taking the tents down in the morning you can catch the frogs who decided to take up residence overnight (NOT EVEN KIDDING).
When your kid throws up, ask how she’s feeling first, NOT whether or not she threw up on her brother. Kids hold grudges about stuff like that.
I’m sure we’ll laugh about this one day…like in a few years…or decades.
Sandra Samoska is a writer with a love for Jesus and a love for family. When she's not chasing around her four kids and doing all the things, you can find her writing about the ways God shows up in our every day lives.