Camping with toddlers may be the most authentic portion of parenting survival style. There's just something invigorating about camping that makes me feel a bit adventurous and flares that pioneer spirit leaving me with a desire to find a cabin in the woods somewhere with some chickens and goats and a big fresh-tilled garden. Yes, I will admit that there was running water on site and both a playground and real bathrooms in walking distance at the locale where we chose to make our first foray into the world of camping with small people and we were camping a stone's throw from train tracks and less than a mile from town as well as under an hour from home. But when you keep in mind that the last time we went camping the only children involved were well outnumbered by adults, far too young to walk and most importantly not ours, I figure having a few cheats on our first attempt is allowable. We did a quick two night trip to end the summer with some friends of ours and their kids so it ended up being four adults with an eleven year old boy and four girls 3 years, 2 years, 4 months and 4 weeks. We took Survivordog too but given that he's pretty mellowed in his old age that wasn't a particularly trying thing other than figuring out how to pack around him in the car and scolding at him for chasing flies.
The loose plan was to get up there sometime shortly after three as both guys got off work about two on Friday and we knew there would be a few last minute things to throw in the vans. As it turns out we both pulled in at just after five. It was actually quite funny that we both ended up being late by pretty much exactly the same amount of time. All in all the trip was enjoyable despite a few mishaps and flaws in planning. I've definitely got some good ground rules for surviving camping with babies and small children in mind for next time so hopefully we can sail through a few camping adventures next summer.
1. Eat Easy - Most of the meals on our camping menu involved cooking as a major part of the preparation which isn't normally an issue but when at least two and sometimes three of the four adults are generally working on supervising, chasing, pottying, dressing and/or comforting babies and toddlers it leaves the kitchen crew a bit short-handed so what would normally be everyone pitching in and getting it done drags on a bit. I think next time there will be lots of cold cereal, sandwiches, premade salads in gallon ziplock bags that just need dressing tossed in and cold snack smorgasbords with just one or two open-fire or campstove cooked meals.
2. Keep Bugs at Bay - I bought natural bug-spray as we didn't have any at home and forgot it. Despite what everyone who lives here says about the mosquitoes here in Oregon this summer, they really aren't that numerous when you're used to the skeeters in the Midwest but Spice is very susceptible to bug bites and tends to react badly so I would normally try to keep her protected. We did bring the liquid Benadryl I grabbed just in case even though they didn't have dye-free because I figured we wouldn't really need it. Turns out she got big on the eyelid Friday night(so bug-spray may not have helped) and it swelled up like a ping-pong ball overnight and was actually swollen shut when she got up Sunday morning. This was of course the eye that she was supposed to be having surgery on the following Tuesday but that's a whole other story. Suffice to say we'll be bringing bug repellent, dye-free Benadryl and one of those nifty bite and sting kits next time. I did like the bug repellent fan we brought along for the baby.
3. Portable Potty - You'd think it would be the kiddos in diapers that would be the problem but we actually had no issues with cloth diapers and camping. It's actually the potty-trained ones that require extra work. Bring some sort of portable potty to keep in your tent. We took one of our little Ikea potties with a supply of plastic bags and disposable g-diaper inserts and it worked out great. I think it saved us about twenty-five trips to the bathroom in the two days we were there. Just in the two hours after we'd packed it all up in the van before we were ready to pull out Sunday morning we walked Sugar to the bathroom 3 times.
4. Independent Activities - After putting on/taking off their bicycle helmets 45 times and helping them figure out the directions on their workbook pages as they drew and colored I was really wishing we'd brought a few more toys for playing without adult help. The crayons were great but I should have brought some less structured coloring books and the soccer ball we threw in last minute was a big hit. They were just dying to play in the dirt so some sand toys might have been good although I think they'd have dug up the entire campground if they had shovels and some cars would have been great too.
5. Slip-On Shoes - While solid tennis shoes are a necessity if you're going to be doing any hiking they aren't easy to slip on and off before running in and out of the tent so best case scenario you spend a good share of your time putting shoe on and worst case scenario you either end up with dirt tracked all over your bedding or dirty socks when someone has forgotten to get their shoes back on before coming out. Next time I'll save the sneakers for hiking and bring some easy slip-on shoes for the rest of the time.
6. Bring Batteries - Go through all your camping gear and figure out which ones take batteries and which don't and bring extras for everything. Bring multiple sets of extras for light sources, cameras and airbed pumps (which I apparently didn't know you're supposed to check before you go to see if they're charged). If you have cellphones or other electronics along that you charge off your car battery, make sure you run your car to charge the battery each time you use it this way so you don't end up with a drained battery at the end of the trip.
7. Take Time for Nature - Camping with busy little kids can seem incompatible with enjoying the quiet of the wilderness but taking time out to partake in the beauty of God's creation will both recharge your batteries and help to foster the beginnings of a lifelong love of the outdoors in your children. Our girls had a blast building a little collection of things they found including a piece of bark, some flowers, a yellow maple leaf and a rock. They got dirty and did a great job of staying away from the "buzzy, buzzy bees". The first night we were there we were sitting by the campfire when all the hustle and bustle of set-up was finally over and our girls were in their sleeping bags chatting and giggling and I happened to look up just in time to see and point out a fireball which is a particularly large meteor. It was gorgeous, flaming yellow, green and pink and definitely something we'd have missed out on if we'd been at home indoors.