I didn’t grow up camping, and I’d go as far as to say that I’m probably not a natural camper. But I like it. I like it because the kids love it. They love the campfire (too much, I’ll get to that later), the tent, the intimacy (note to self: baked beans were not the wisest choice for dinner), and the novelty of eating, falling asleep and waking up outside. I highly recommend it, even if you think you’re not the type. Still, I must add a few words of advice:

1. Be prepared to work: Don’t kid yourself. Camping is hardly a return to the simplicity of nature.  You will not be hiking to a secluded spot with only the items on your back and living deliberately or sucking the marrow out of life. No, you will spend hours and hours preparing. In short, you will pack you what feels like two-thirds of your entire house just to spend a couple of nights outside.  If you are smart, you will enlist the aid of your kids. You will not (ahem) allow them to watch five hours of questionable TV while you do all the work so that when you (ahem) get into the car, you are pissed off and exhausted before you even leave. Once you get to the campsite you will rinse and repeat and unpack all the crap you’ve brought with you.

2. Dirt. It’s rather amazing to me that within five minutes of being at the campsite everything I brought with is immediately covered in a not-so-fine layer of filth. I can’t even call it dust, because dust is too polite for what this is. It’s grime, and it coats everything. You may have a child who hates to be dirty, who spends most of the time worrying that her feet aren’t clean and insists you escort her to the bathroom so she can wash them for what feels like the 10th time that day. It’s your job to help her get over that, and quickly. Just make sure to bring more changes of clothes than your normally would, for everyone.

3. Sleep: If your children are small, don’t expect much. Especially on the first night. I myself have something of a two night maximum, so this inevitably means that one half of the trip is spent in a sleep deprived stupor. For example, on this recent trip to the delightful Dosewallips State Park, we managed to get the baby (11 months) and Fi (almost 3) to sleep pretty easily. But an hour into the night, Fi sits up and screams, “What am I in? Where am I?” She then proceeds to repeat this hourly, waking the baby each time. While I can understand her sentiment (sometimes I wake in the middle of the night and wonder where the  hell I am), this was more than I could handle. At some point I gently suggested that M take the baby out of the tent and walk around with her. He does so for about ten minutes until he hears a growl behind him. I hear him scream. I panic because the tent is open and whatever creature attacked him and tried to eat the baby could be on its way to the rest of us. He manages to scare off the bobcat, or whatever it was (vampire? we were on the Olympic Peninsula) and at some point we slept for about three hours straight.

4. Air Mattresses Suck: I’ve never slept on one and not had to see the chiropractor the next day. I like those bumpy, egg crate-ish pads that go on the floor. Still, there’s not much you can do to make a tent comfortable. Especially when you insist on falling asleep with a bottle of Advil in your sleeping bag so you can knock out the headache you know is heading your way. Every time I rolled over, I rattled. Also, M insisted that I was the only one who needed a pillow, but every time I got up to deal with the baby, Francie stole it. Poll your kids and bring enough pillows, otherwise, they’ll use you for one instead. Trust me.

5. Keep your sense of humor. At some point one of the boys woke up and tried to pee out of the dog flap on the tent. I didn’t think it was funny at the time, but he did. In hindsight I wished I’d just have laughed it off.

6. Who needs a Wii when  you can have a fire? The boys spend hours standing inches from the fire and trying to throw all sorts of crap in when we weren’t looking. At one point one of them tried to melt his toothbrush. Therefore, if you are willing to part with one or two of their eyebrows, you really don’t need to bring much to do.

7. Go Glamping: This is generally my rule for travel with kids: BRING GREAT BEAUTY PRODUCTS. I always stash some good shampoo, or moisturizer in my bag because no matter the hotel or condo, if all hell is breaking loose, I can lock myself in the bathroom, take a shower and feel like a human being. I also love product, so I guess this is just an excuse to buy it in those cute little travel sizes they sell at Sephora. I even do this camping, to some degree. Mostly, because as filthy and degraded as you may get sleeping on the floor with your entire family, it helps you maintain a modicum of dignity. Also because I can’t stand playing the Guess the Gender game that I am forced to do so often up here in Pacific Northwest, especially at campsites, and I live in fear of morphing into one of these fleece clad she-males. So, if you’re in a dodgy campsite bathroom and the woman next to you is applying mascara and lip gloss. Say hi, it’s probably me.

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