“That sounds like hell.” Though he denies it now, I swear that was my husband’s response to the idea of taking our two-year-old camping.
And it is a logical reaction. After all, campfires and clumsy toddlers don’t exactly mix, do they?
Yet, I have wanted to take my son camping since I first locked eyes with him. I want him to know the fun of getting outdoor grit on his skin and dirt under his nails. I want him to experience the thrill of waking up to the sound of birds singing with only a thin sheath of nylon separating him from the dewy morning air and earth.
So, we went.
My husband (probably jealous of all of the fun he knew we were going to have) decided to ride his motorcycle up and spend a night.
But, he was kind of right in his initial assessment—camping with toddlers is hell. And it is also spectacular.
The instant my friend and I set the first tent up, our boys began running around the spacious dome chasing one another and giggling ecstatically. Instantly the painstaking work of preparing for the trip became worth it.
They only had a handful of toys—a couple of trucks and shovels—but they had enough sticks and rocks to keep them occupied for hours. They surfed their small bodies down the snaking sand dunes made of soft, golden grains and clamoured back up the slippery slopes for more.
They were high on life, giddy on the great outdoors, and happier than happy.
I realize that my Pollyanna retelling of this adventure sounds pretty darn good so far, but even through my nifty, rose-coloured glasses, I can admit there were some very hellish, high-stress times.
Here is what I learned from camping with a toddler:
1. DON’T TRAVEL TOO FAR:
Our campground was more than a two-and-half hour drive from Toronto and, with kids in car, the journey was definitely a test in resilience. If you can find a great site close to your home, do so. That way if your excursion is a major bust, it will be easier to pull the plug and return to the comfort of your beds.
2. KNOW YOUR CHILD’S MUST-HAVES:
My husband and I have a vomit monster. He doesn’t like going in the car because he almost always gets sick. This time, I was prepared and bought Sea-Bands (natural, drug-free wrist bands that help fend off motion sickness). Think about your child’s must-haves for a successful trip. Is it a favourite blanket, stuffed animal, or, like us, a way to achieve a sick-free journey? Whatever it is, bring it.
Warning: your little one might refuse naps and be raring to go all day long. This will suck—big time. Some kids may be wary of sleeping in a new environment, unsettled by a change in their routine, or even afraid of the noises coming from the nature surrounding them. Unfortunately, you won’t know how your child is going to respond until you get there, so hope for the best and expect the worst.
4. KNOW HOW YOUR GEAR WORKS:
Case in point: I packed my single-pan induction cooker, but when I plugged it in, it didn’t heat up. I flicked the switch on and off, turned the temperature up and down, and checked the plug before finally giving up. I carried the cooker back to the car and only then noticed that the instructions were on the outside of the box. The cooker does not heat up until the pot is on the element, it said. How could I forget that? And yet I did.
It is smart to give your gear a trial run beforehand (especially so when travelling with kids) so you can check for damage and missing parts, as well as resolve any technical issues you might encounter before you leave.
5. CONSIDER THE ADULT TO CHILD RATIO:
Had my husband not driven up for a night, I don’t know how we would have managed to pack up to leave on our last day. Have you ever tried to tear down tents, wash dishes, and load up a car while keeping track of busy toddlers? Next time: Four adults to two toddlers, minimum.
6. A WEEKEND IS TOO SHORT:
The prep time for the trip took longer than the actual camping. While I wouldn’t commit to an entire week, three or four days I think is a good amount of time for beginner campers.
7. ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES:
Admittedly, I failed at this.
Nothing about camping is easy. Add a kid to the mix and, wow. There's the driving and setting up, the cooking, the cleaning and . . . why the heck did I want to do this again? Oh, yes. It’s for the children. I forgot.
Next time, I will make a point of taking deep breaths constantly and laughing (even when I am too busy pulling my hair out).
One recent night, I had trouble sleeping. A butterfly was keeping me awake. It was flapping its long, elegant wings against the sides of a small glass jar that had tiny punctured holes in the lid.
For two days, the large Swallowtail had been fluttering about the playground at my son’s daycare until somebody thought to capture it in order to give the toddlers a closer look.
The butterfly was stunning with beautiful yellow and black velvety wings, though I suspect more stunning amid breezy trees and fragrant flowers.
I inquired about the butterfly and was assured it would be freed in the morning. It was a curious thing, for what could be gained by keeping a butterfly trapped and isolated inside of an empty building over night?
Before leaving, I considered sneaking the jar out and freeing the beautiful creature, yet I did nothing.
We left. We went home. We ate.
Later that evening the butterfly haunted me. I imagined the eerie silence of the hallway broken by the sound of the butterfly slamming its wings against the glass in a futile effort to escape.
I imagined its fear. And I wondered why I had left it alone, why I hadn’t intervened.
Surely, risking a pinch of trouble had I been caught red-handed with the jar would’ve been a small price to pay for its release from captivity.
As I tried to sleep, I worried the butterfly might not survive until morning and, if it didn’t, would I have been guilty for playing a role in its death?
Isn’t the conscious act of not doing something—of not standing up, of not stepping in—just as bad?
You might be reading this thinking, "please, it is only an insect, for goodness sake," and you’re right. If it were a cockroach, I wouldn’t be half as generous, yet I was burdened by guilt.
The way in which we humans attach value to other creatures sharing the earth with us is a strange thing. We love dogs, but not rats. We keep cats, but not mice. We love butterflies, but not moths.
Last winter in Cayo Coco, Cuba, I approached a man who had been collecting starfish from the water to keep as souvenirs and politely told him they were alive.
I showed him the healthy pink bottom of the living, breathing echinoderm, but he still seemed unconvinced that they were anything other than tourist collectibles, which inevitably end up rotting in hotel rooms until the stench becomes so unbearable the remains get chucked.
“If they are alive, I’ll put them back,” the man snapped defensively. And maybe he did. They at least stood a better chance than they had moments ago.
As for the butterfly, eventually I set aside my worry and fell asleep.
The next morning, I was anxious to get to the daycare to check on it.
It was alive, but zapped of energy. There was no food for it to eat.
Finally, I spoke up.
“If you don’t release the butterfly, it will be dead soon,” I said, which probably isn’t the thing to say when there are a dozen or so big-eyed toddlers standing nearby, but it is the reality.
If we hope to teach children about other living things, we must also teach them the importance—and fragility—of those lives.
Thankfully, I was told that they were letting the butterfly go later that morning.
I considered staying long enough to see it fly from the jar, to witness its glorious wings soaring, fully expanded.
But, instead, I turned and left.
I felt great sadness as the butterfly, now sitting still in the bottom of the jar, receded from sight.
Again, I fought my instincts. I fought my nature. It was an unnatural thing not to grab the jar and run to freedom.
If you liked this, you might also like: "Is Becoming A Mom In Your 20s Better Than Waiting?" and "Training Day: The Importance Of Teaching Dogs The Rules."
Perhaps you and I are similar.
Let’s see if any of this sounds familiar—you once rocked heels fiercer than Beyoncé and could swap a demure, daytime walk for a sassy nighttime strut in a snap. You had your choice of several snazzy purses, which you matched to your accessory stash like a pro.
Yes, lady, you had swagger.
And then there is now. Where is this place, now, exactly? It’s the one filled with flats and flops.
It is the land of motherhood, where patent red heels don’t jive with stroller pushing and sandbox digging, kiddie pools, and family meals out (no, not to the fancy steak house with white linens and an expertly curated wine list ) to Boston Pizza, where a dish called Bugs ‘n’ Cheese appears on the menu.
Does this sound like you? It definitely resonates over here.
Generally, the closest I come to heels is seeing them click clacking across the TV screen on Cityline’s Fashion Fridays.
But we—we, as in mothers—could still wear them. It’s not as though with the arrival of kids, poof went the heels off to Kansas or somewhere.
I could be wearing them now (though that would be more than a little ridiculous, as I am sitting alone in my home office writing while the dog groans beside me).
But I could if I wanted to.
Truth is, I’ve lost my footing.
I know this, because on a recent night out with friends, I sported heels and even before indulging in copious amounts of red wine, I was already teetering. The pub is a 10-minute walk from my home, but instead of busting out a cool, runway walk, I looked more like a clumsy 10-year-old playing dress up in her mother’s shoes.
I was wobbly and lacking confidence—a complete ankle-burning novice.
But this isn’t about heels. Not really. Though, I suspect you already knew that, didn’t you?
Shoes are just the humble symbol of something greater—this is about misplacing our pre-motherhood mojo and the fabulous, crumb-free style we once owned, like Katy-friggen-Perry owns the stage.
It is about the women we were before kids and carpools and Saturday mornings spent pushing our adorable crumpets on swing sets.
You know—that girl.
What I learned from my night out is that wearing impractical footwear isn’t like riding a bike—you just can’t hop back on any old time you want. I learned that I miss garments that have a bit of sparkle to them and no tiny fingerprint smears whatsoever. I miss the effort required when playing a little dress up.
And I learned that the girl I was pre-child still very much exists (she’s just been tucked away for a while).
Can you relate?
If you find yourself nodding along to the 10-point list below, then I suspect you can.
1. Shirts that demand buttoning up require too much effort.
2. Carrying a regular purse makes you feel like an imposter.
3. You live for stretch. Anything stretch—pants, shirts, skirts, you name it, as long as you don’t have to suck anything in—makes the cut.
4. You grab a T-shirt in the morning and see an unidentified splotch on the shoulder and think, 'Oh good! It’s clean enough!’ before doing a quick sniff test.
5. Except for a post-baby bra, you can’t remember the last time you bought anything form fitting.
6. You can’t recall the last time you checked your butt in the mirror to see how it looks in your jeans (because you seriously can’t remember the last time you wore butt-flattering jeans).
7. When you visit the hair salon, you use the terms "fuss-free," "easy," and "wash and go," but stress that you do not, under any circumstance, want mom hair.
8. When you ‘style’ your hair in the morning, what you really mean is you busted out the blow dryer.
9. You haven’t a clue where the closest dry cleaner is because, really, why would you? That is the beauty of stretch! It’s not just comfortable, but it’s also maintenance-free!
10. When you go clothing shopping, you come back with three cute outfits that are to-die-for . . . and they are all for your child.
I’ve been guilty of all of these and more. Don’t you sometimes want your former self back? Maybe just a little?
Well, here’s the thing—I think she’s still kicking around there somewhere.
Yes, somewhere buried beneath the Buzz Lightyear action figures and dump trucks, broken crayons and colouring books, that girl is still there (and I bet if you went looking for her, you might just dig up a really great pair of heels in the process).
Isn't it time we freed that girl? I think so. I really do.
Read more posts by Tanya Enberg. Try these! Five Reasons to Leave the Kids Behind on Your Next Trip; Dear Husband, You Are My Bicycle; and When a Guy at the Gym Turns Creepy.