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For my children, summer means one thing: Let’s go camping! For me, summer means another thing: Do we really have to go camping?
Yeah, yeah … I know. American kids don’t play outside enough, much less in nature. And what better way to experience the great outdoors than spending time in the woods—as a family—hiking, fishing, building fires, and sleeping under the stars?
I didn’t always hate camping. When the kids were really small, I couldn’t wait for them to be potty trained so we could pack up the car and head for the mountains. We didn’t even wait that long, instead camping out for the first time when Little Brother was just 2-and-a-half and in that really stinky diaper phase. But we knew that by the time he had mastered the toilet skills, the Sierras would be snowed over. Not that inclement weather stopped us. The following year, we celebrated the beginning of summer by spending Memorial Day weekend in the Yosemite Valley. Only it rained for three days straight. The droplets turned to hail, yet we didn’t pack it up until the ranger announced that the highway would soon be shut down due to snow.
Then there was the year that I woke up in the middle of the night with nightmares of people running past our tent yelling, “Go away, bear!” Only it was no dream. The sound was our neighbors chasing a cub through our site. And then there was that time I came home with both pimples and dry skin, with a kink in my back, and dirt caked in between my toes. Oh, that would be every time we went camping.
For all my complaining, I do appreciate nature. And I love seeing Big Dipper through my kids’ city eyes or coming across a pair of deer in a meadow. I don’t check Facebook, Twitter or email—because there’s no Wi-Fi. It’s my annual time to unplug and hit the reset button. I feel virtuous, refreshed and ready to tackle my regular life again.
By the second or third trip of the summer, the novelty of nature wears off.
For me, camping once a year is plenty. After stumbling through the dark to an outhouse, I won’t complain about my grungy bathroom grout. I am thankful for the little things, like hot running water and a refrigerator. I understand why people enjoy heading to the hills ... until the family wants to go camping again.
By the second or third trip of the summer, the novelty of nature wears off. My husband and sons, however, could happily spend every free weekend until Labor Day in the tent. Somehow, the things that bother me about roughing it are also the things my boys thrive on. They don’t have to shower, and they get to eat hot dogs and chili (from a can!). My kids don’t suffer from nature deficit disorder. They can help pitch a tent, are able to choose a good hiking stick and have earned so many Junior Ranger badges that they ought to be on the parks service payroll. When there’s a campfire to stoke, they don’t notice that they’ve gone days without video games.
So I started letting them go without me. When I have summer business trips, my husband takes days off work to watch the kids. And he makes a reservation at a local state park. I get to spend a couple nights in a nice hotel, and the boys get to roll around in the dirt. Win-win.
My annual camp out is coming up at the end of summer. And you know what? I can honestly say I’m looking forward to it. Other moms have admitted that they dread camping, too. Later this summer, my family and several dozen of our closest friends are planning a multi-family overnighter. At a recent get-together, one of the women asked repeatedly, “You are going, right?” By the time she asked the question a third time, I offered to prick my finger and make a blood pact.