My husband loves the great outdoors. He’s even succeeded in getting this die-hard city girl to somewhat tolerate it, too. So it made perfect sense that when our daughter was almost two we decided to take her on her first camping trip. We bought her a small chair for those fun campfires we were going to have, and even her very own camping utensils to eat her first grilled hot dog. Because nothing says "roughing it" like cooking up a processed meat product that I’d picked up at the supermarket two miles down the hill.
But I never got to make that hot dog, because when we got to our campsite, it was full of bees. A lot of bees and a lot of other flying bugs. And it was really, really hot. It was so hot and there were so many bugs that we immediately took cover in our car with the air conditioning on, and when we did venture outside, we saw our daughter with a bunch of those tiny flying creatures stuck around her eyelids like a sad photo out of National Geographic. So we packed up and left, swearing to come back another time.
That "another time" would be almost five years later, and we brought along our now seven-year-old as well as her five-year-old sister. This time there were no bees but there were bears that kept my husband up literally all night with their dumpster shenanigans, as well as a couple who decided to have a loud, emotional fight as they walked several times around the camping loop.
“You slept with her, and you’re telling me now?” she wailed.
“Please, stop yelling,” he pleaded. “And can we get back in the tent?”
Our kids didn’t get to hear any sounds of nature that night, but they did find out that cheating on your girlfriend and then confessing it in the deafening silence of a campground is a really, really bad idea.
Our idea of roughing it is an occasional low-level trek over level ground and within cell-phone range.
With such unfortunate beginnings it’s no wonder that we didn’t venture outdoors too often as a family. And to be honest, since having kids, my enthusiasm for nature had waned considerably. Wrangling toddlers in the scorching heat, worrying about poisonous plants and bugs underfoot was exhausting and much less attractive than sitting in a dark, cool theater or hanging out inside someone’s nice, clean house with a refrigerator full of snacks nearby.
But my husband wasn’t ready to give up. He tried to get us to hike with him, but he got frustrated when the younger daughter had somehow thought ballet slippers were appropriate hiking gear, and the older one was much more interested in reorganizing her playlists on her iPod than getting schooled on the life cycle of trees. He did manage to get them to play in an outdoor tent, though, as long as he was nearby and in position to get rid of any creepy crawlers that might make their way into the vicinity.
So we became a non-outdoors family, and we were fine with it. Neither of my girls were in any clubs or activities that took them on outdoors excursions, and their summer camp experience consisted of two weeks learning guitar and songwriting at a music camp every year.
My girls are older now, and they’ve turned out to be fine upstanding human beings in spite of having no knowledge of how to start a fire, cross a stream, scurry up a rope or make a weapon out of tree bark. Our idea of roughing it is an occasional low-level trek over level ground and within cell-phone range. My older daughter even said she knew her boyfriend was a perfect match when they discovered on their first date that they shared an aversion to hiking.
Do I regret not being a more outdoorsy family? Not really. But sometimes on vacation, I admit to feeling a little jealous when I think of families who are skiing off cliffs together or scuba-diving with sharks. But I know we’re fine when I take one look at my girls, order us all up another pitcher of lemonade as we sit around the pool, and think about all of those bears we don’t have to deal with.