Enjoy camping with kids?!? Who am I and what is happening?
Dearhearts, I’m baaaaack!!!! I’ve been offline for over a week, on the road with our kids on our annual pilgrimage to the pacific northwest. We logged 30 hours in the car (have mercy), spent time with beloved friends and family, and enjoyed camping with our kids for three days in a beautiful forest by a river.
Now in theory, I do not enjoy camping. Not one bit. I enjoy fancy hotels and room service. And I certainly never ever thought I’d enjoy camping with kids. (So many beloved wonderful kids– we have five!) But I must admit that this trip had some dreamy moments in it:
Wait, did I actually enjoy camping with my kids?!?!
I did. But of course, it’s a little more complicated than that. I’m both more filled up and more exhausted than I’ve been in a long time.
We came home and back online to such heartbreak: two shootings in the US, Toni Morrison had died, and then a horrific ICE raid by my own government that left scores of children desolate and traumatized. (I’m an immigrant. My husband is trans. None of this is theoretical to us.)
To be honest, I kind of just wanted to go back to the woods.
There’s a difference between hiding, and resting. This is not the time for us to hide. But it might be time for you to rest if your outrage and fury are beginning to give way to a hopeless sense of despair.
Our friends gave me hope. We have each other’s backs. We will not give up.
I felt the power of our village, how it held us all up like a sturdy tree branch this week.
Like that moment when we couldn’t get the tent up and it was growing dark and Nick was swearing and I was crying (true story), and then again when my kid did her darnedest to launch herself into the deepest part of the swimming hole “because now I can swim Mommy, watch!”
We watched our kids grow bigger in the woods, climbing taller trees, venturing places on their own, hiking upriver, finding their own wild hearts as they tore through the underbrush playing a fierce game they’d invented themselves.
We felt ourselves grow bigger too, untethered from our phones and inboxes for three potent days, letting the obligations spool away from us as we floated down a river.
Rainbows bloomed bright in camp— glow sticks for the kids at night, rainbow Pride bubbles generously donated by House Wine, unicorns and floaties on the river every color of the rainbow.
Our kids were lit up all day, and slept hard all night, and bit by bit among the trees and the water, something inside me shifted and got brighter, too.
(Which doesn’t mean it was perfect, friends. I was losing my mind with exasperation at one kid the final hour at the river, to the point where I grounded her to the beach and said, “I am your mother and I WILL NOT let you drown today!” And the ride home— 16 long hours— was pretty awful.)
But there was something about getting outside of our comfort zone, hearing the rain pour down on our tent the first night, falling into the bliss of a gorgeous hotel we accidentally booked on the way home (hi hotwire!), remembering that a hot shower and soft bed are the most remarkable luxuries.
It shifted the scenery inside me. I can feel something new tugging at me, and it’s hard to say whether the thing is coming from inside me or outside me, whether it’s something new in me blooming or something being called into life by the thing I’m moving toward. (Sort of the way that the acorn holds the tree it will become, but the tree itself is begging the acorn to become it.)
I’m not being coy by not telling you what that new thing is, dear reader friend; I only have a blurry idea of what it might even be, and believe me, when I am more clear, I’ll let you know pronto.
But new winds are stirring, and somehow this trip has been part of that.
A couple Very Important Things before I wrap up this missive, which isn’t a proper essay at all this week, just a little love note from me to you.
I wrote you about how last year I went to the river without proper shoes. I had bought my whole family river shoes, mind, but I tried to make do for myself with flimsy flip flops. (And oh how I regretted my choices!)
But the other thing that made a difference? Twinkle lights. The first couple of years we camped, we did it mostly in the dark, with a few awful stark LED lanterns to provide basic visibility. They cast a cold, stark, harsh light. It was about as romantic as camping in a Walmart parking lot. I kept expecting there to be used needles on the ground. While I was suffering through this indignity, I noticed that my friends had strung their campsites with festive strings of lights— some white and elegant, some bright as a fiesta. So this year??? I bought STRINGS of twinkle lights! Scads of twinkle lights!!! And I bought solar ones so I didn’t have to feel guilty about all the batteries I would be throwing away!
And you know what? It transformed a hard dirty sticky itchy chore into a rather magical getaway, all warm and lit up and twinkly…even if it was still itchy and sticky. I’m telling you, twinkle lights were the secret ingredient that actually let me ENJOY camping with kids. I’m pretty sure there’s a profound truth in this somewhere. It might be along the lines of #makelifegorgeous, don’t you think?
Also. If you are attempting a road trip with kidlets, snacks are imperative. However, no one will want to eat your terrible snacks; they will want you to buy candy at the gas station and donuts at Tim Hortons; and honestly? you should just go with it.
One final thing. This trip, dreamy though moments of it were, was NOT my vacation. It was a gift to my kids, their favorite thing to do aaaaallllll year. But even though I loved so much of it, it was also a shit-ton of work, and I’m home and exhausted and have piles of laundry to do and 80 million bags to unpack and 400 unread emails in my inbox.
So MY vacation is coming in a couple of weeks. It involves my beloved, a distant sandy beach, and BLUE WATER. I can hardly believe it. Stay tuned.
This beach vacay is an anomaly, the first we’ve ever taken together, but I do try to do SOMEthing nice for myself after I do something nice for my kids. A spa day; a solo night away; even just a day spent entirely in bed with a novel. Don’t kid yourself that your kids’ vacation is yours.
You get to have one too. You’re allowed. I promise, it will make everything better.
And if this is the week you’re doing hard things for love, here’s the important thing to remember– don’t forget your own river shoes…. or the twinkle lights.