A few weeks ago we went camping at one of our favorite campgrounds, Shady Grove. We had a primo spot right on the lake with our own sandy beach.
While our site was private, if you’ve ever camped at a campground, you know that total privacy is not really possible. It’s sort of a communal experience at best.
The two campsites next to us, which were empty the first night, began filling up early Saturday morning. The campers, it turned out, were five dads and their eight young boys. The ages of the children looked to be 2-5 years old.
I figured out pretty quickly that these loving fathers were giving the moms a much needed break, taking the boys for a relaxing campout at Lake Lanier.
Ha! Even dads with the best of intentions often set lofty goals when it comes to these experiences.
It was amusing to see the moods of the campers change during the course of the day. On arrival and the initial pitching of camp, everybody was full of good cheer.
I smiled, listening to those all-too-familiar giggles of excited children as they ran squealing along the banks of the lake, yelling as they waved sticks and chased each other through the woods.
There is something tribal about a pack of little boys. All that’s missing are loin cloths and face paint.
I was afforded the luxury of a trip down memory lane when my husband needed something from the store. He asked if I wanted to go with him and our son.
I declined, smiling when he said he felt bad leaving me alone. He still doesn’t understand how precious alone moments are to me.
I assured him I would be fine. Of course I wasn’t really alone — Indie, our dog, is my constant companion. My excited puppy made it known I couldn’t sit to read, so instead we walked for hours. I was lost in thought.
How many camping trips had we taken during the past 20-plus years? Too many to count.
We almost always learned the hard way what works with children and what doesn’t.
For example, it might seem obvious that primitive tent camping with a child still in diapers and three other youngsters is not a good idea. What seems so crystal clear to me today didn’t seem so back then.
We thought it would be an adventure, and I suppose when you put it that way, it was.
As I walked along the beach, with the backdrop of screaming children nearby, I had a sort of camping revelation. Tent camping with young children is a lot like child birth: It’s not exactly fun, and often downright painful, but when you look back, for the most part your memories are pleasant.
I thought about my four sweet children, sitting by the camp fire licking melted marshmallow off their sticky little fingers. How cute to see their little bodies burrowed together in the tent, packed in like sardines.
How relaxing it was when they were all finally asleep and my husband and I could sit alone under the canopy of stars … that moment probably lasted all of 15 minutes before we hurried to bed, knowing the troops would be up before dawn. Now things are so different, even peaceful, when we camp.
Later that night, as we prepared dinner with no one crying or asking when it would be ready, I noticed things weren’t so calm next door. I heard little boys crying and dads raising their voices in frustration.
The mother in me wanted to go next door to help, but I knew this is one experience those dads were just going to have to handle on their own. Camping with young children is a rite of passage.
At dark, one of the dads came over and asked if he could borrow our inflation device for their air mattresses. He explained that the dad who brought one had given up and taken his sons home.
I applauded this father’s bravery and told him he would soon blink and his sons would be off to college. He looked at me as if I were crazy.
I thought anybody who tent camps with little ones more than once probably does have a bit of an odd gene in them.
Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t change those exhausting camping trips for anything.
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.