Fourth Time’s Not A Charm: Our First Family Camping Trip

“Yeah, maybe I could hold this position for four more hours,” I whispered to Dan.The scene was not a tantric sex retreat but a camping trip gone awry.  It was 2am and we’d been awake with Sweet Pea since about midnight. I lay on my side, propped on my right elbow, her head nestled between my bicep and the inside of my forearm. My headlamp was buried somewhere between the air mattress and the tent wall and the location of my sanity was completely unknown. Which would explain why I thought I might maintain this pose until daybreak.

“Are you sure?” Dan whispered.

I was not. Tentatively, I moved my right arm. Perhaps I could transfer her from my body to the Pack and Play without waking her up if I did it one millimeter at a time. I’d tried this stealth maneuver unsuccessfully about 358 times over the past couple of hours but I thought maybe this time would be different.

She let out a whimper, which escalated to a shriek.

Over her cries, we heard an unmistakeable “F*ck you!” from the guys a few campsites away.  The first time, we allowed ourselves to believe it was not necessarily directed at us. This time, however, we were pretty sure it was.

I figured probably they were drunk, angry and armed and it was only a matter of time until they busted into our tent and held us at gunpoint, the natural result of our crying baby interrupting their drunken shenanigans. Or at least they were going to slash our tires and beat us up.

I whispered to Dan, “I am worried about those guys.”

I figured he would tell me I had read too many Ann Rule books and I should relax, they were probably harmless.  (It was actually the beating scene with the brother and the marine from The Paperboy I had in mind).

“I’m not really comfortable with them either.”

With that, we gathered the necessities: baby, diaper bag, wallets, and car keys and scurried into the night like the pair of bleary eyed, desperate adults and sleeping baby that we were.  We drove 17 miles to the nearest motel and settled in for the night. Thankfully Sweet Pea didn’t cry in the motel room because we didn’t have a Plan C or even the Infant Tylenol, which, in our haste, we left in the tent.

I wish I could say we were shocked to discover that camping with a 15 month old did not offer the restful, rejuvenating sleep we’d anticipated, but we had tried camping in the backyard, not once, not twice, but three times, all with similarly bad results.

Optimism being a powerful force in our household, we hoped the fourth time would be a charm. Surely, real camping would be different, we told ourselves. Spending the day at the camp grounds breathing fresh air, frolicking in the woods and swimming in the lake would fatigue Sweet Pea to the point where nothing could keep her from sleeping.  Except swimming was thwarted by cooler temps and higher winds than we’d expected and Sweet Pea’s frolicking took place mainly in the Pack and Play, as she played peek-a-boo while we attempted a much-needed mid-day family nap in the tent.

While our night did not go as intended, we were pleased to return to our tent in the morning to find it untouched by our neighbors. And we got to swim a little in the morning, before our reservation at the campsite expired. Sunday’s weather was perfect- exactly what had been predicted for Saturday, actually, though we were too sleep deprived to fully enjoy it.

At least now Dan can’t say I’m being a princess if I’m not enthusiastic about camping. I’m just being reasonable.

Seriously, though, do you camp with your kids? At what age did you start taking them? Have you had disasters? Successes? Have you learned any tips or tricks along the way?

Where was our sleeping cherub at 2am?

5 thoughts on “Fourth Time’s Not A Charm: Our First Family Camping Trip

  1. Sara Mahan says:

    Our little one was 4 months old when we first took her camping. We drove to Idaho and decided to camp along the way, two nights between three long days of driving. So we set out never having camped with her before, forget our road map, phone service is non existent in middle of WY so we drove 2 hrs out of our way, arrive at 11p at the campground in Cody, WY and set up camp for the first time in the dark. Somehow we lucked out and she was really great the whole time! Not only did we camp on the way there, we camped for 5 days when we arrived in ID. I think the key for us was that she slept right next to me. My husband and I use cush car camping pads for us and one of our old backpacking thermarests for her- it’s short and a crib sheet fit perfectly over it. Our tent was the perfect width to have our two large pads side by side and then hers in the corner next to me. So, she was corralled in by the walls of the tent and me. We made her a little nest with familiar things from her bed at home. I was still nursing her then, so I definitely slept with a boob at the ready to quiet her.We went camping a few more times after that and did the same thing…I’m sure we deserved a few “f-you’s” while tenting at a crowded/popular CO music festival but everyone who didn’t have kids was too stoned to muster the anger, thankfully. But this summer she is walking and I think we’ll have to go the pack n’ play route. But I’ll be prepared to make a bed for her on the ground with us just in case 😉

  2. Pam Moore says:

    Sara, I’m so jealous!!! We have never had an easy time of co-sleeping. When she was younger, all she would want to do was nurse (not super conducive to sleep for me) and if she wasn’t nursing she was crying. Now that she’s older, she will nurse some, but mostly wants to mess around/play if she’s in bed with us… Also not conducive to sleep!

  3. tracey becker says:

    This made me laugh so loudly. I’m sorry.We’ve been camping ever since our eldest was a toddler and youngest was a baby. Our sister and her daughters (who do not sleep well without mom RIGHT THERE) have usually gone with us. We’ve had so many nights like YOURS and so many fabulous ones. It’s really a crap shoot. Keep trying. It’s worth it when it it works.

  4. Pam Moore says:

    Tracy- Thanks for the encouragement. Although I’m not sure that “It’s a crap shoot” is encouraging:) Seriously, the “it’s worth it when it finally works”- that is encouraging!

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