Camping with a Toddler

We love to camp.

I grew up camping.  I was a Girl Scout for 11 years and then a camp counselor.  After that, my boyfriend, now husband (whom I met whilst camp counseling) got me hooked on backpacking.

I developed that love-hate relationship with it, where while I’m hiking up the hill in 1354627 degree heat, I just want to die…but once I get to the top, it’s all worth it.  Survival.  Independence.  Self-reliance.  All that good stuff that we are so excited to pass on to our kid.

We realized we hadn’t been camping in 4 years, and since I’m pregnant with #2, we needed to get in a trip RIGHT NOW before I am too big and before we have a screaming baby to take care of.

The short version of this story: camping was fucking hard.

Before going, I had read several articles about how camping with kids was so doable, you guys!  Just get out there and do it!

And, like a sucker, I was like, YEAH!  Let’s do this!  What could go wrong?!

The hardest part was trying to keep some kind of normal sleep schedule for my almost 2 year old.  He barely napped in the car on the way there.  Strike one.

We went out for dinner so we could hurry to the campsite and set up with enough time to put the kid to bed at a reasonable hour.  Now, we don’t co-sleep and we put our kid to bed while he’s still wide awake, so it’s his job to self-soothe himself to sleep.  I originally worried that there was no way we’d be able to get a pack n play into our tent, because I didn’t see how our thrashy sleeper would get any sleep (let alone US get any sleep) lying on an open mattress next to us.  Thank goodness our hand-me-down 5 person tent was plenty big enough to fit the pack n play next to a full sized blow up mattress for my pregnant hips.  It was a good start.

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Our sleep setup

So we get him to bed, and he’s super distracted (understandable) and it takes him a while to get to bed, but he does, and without crying.  When we go in the tent to sleep, I can smell that he’s poopy (my son, not my husband).  We decided to let him sleep with the risk that the poopy might give him a rash.

It was a horrible night.  I couldn’t sleep and my son couldn’t sleep.  Like, at all.  I woke up several times to my son standing in the pnp, leaning over me, whispering Mama.  Creepy as all hell.  Go the eff to sleep, kid.

He woke up upset at 6am, when he normally sleeps til 8 or 9, sometimes even later.  I got up to change his poopy (which had leaked all over everything. perfect.) which made him scream and he wouldn’t stop…..and we woke up the entire camp and FELT HORRIBLE.

Breakfast was tough, he didn’t want to eat, he wanted to run away into the road.  I was exhausted and cranky and pregnant.

To make matters worse, we had to break down camp completely because we had to switch to a new campsite for the second night.  Ugh.  We seriously considered just going home.

But I’m glad we didn’t.

Breakfast and cleanup and breaking down camp took forever because one of us had to do all the work while the other made sure Cranky McDidn’t Sleep stayed alive.  We managed to pack a lunch, get the hell outta there, and went to the beach (a very short drive away).  Dylan perked up, ate, ran through the freezing ankle-deep water.  We all had fun.  We saw a 100 year old shipwreck!

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Then we got to the second campsite and set everything up with enough time for Dylan to actually get a nap in before dinner.  He had to cry himself to sleep in order to do it, but he just needed to fuck-ing sleeeeeeeeeeep.

Unfortunately, he woke for dinner sooper cranky and crying and wanting to run out into the road, again.  It was incredibly frustrating and scary.  Everything during camping is hard to do anyway – cooking, washing dishes, set up, clean up – and it went even slower because one of us had to constantly be following Dylan around.  I now totally understand why parents put their kids in leashes.  Sign me up.

Thank goodness we had the genius forethought to plan hotdogs for dinner, because Dylan ate like a champ and I kid you not – halfway through the meal, his cranky whines stopped and he looked up at me and said, very calmly, Hi.  In response, I said, “Welcome back!”  And he was back, just like that.  My sweet, lovable, obedient little boy.  We went for a walk around the campground and he had his first s’more (loooved it) and we put him to bed and everything was glorious.  That night I slept, he slept, we all SLEPT.  And Dylan woke at his normal time, smiling and giggling like the horror that was yesterday never happened.

We had oatmeal and packed up and saw a cool fort and drove home and it was a very lovely day.  No one tried to run out into the road!

So.  Overall, it was a success.  A hard-fought success.

A few pointers for those still brave enough to attempt:

  1. Bring extra bedding.  Our leaky poopy experience taught us the hard way.
  2. Plan simple meals.  This one saved us.  Ain’t nobody got time for fancy meals when everything takes ten times as long and you have a hungry, cranky kid running into the road.
  3. Pack early.  With kids, you have to bring a lot of extra shit.  We left later than we wanted because we were scrambling to get everything and to make sure it all fit in the car.
  4. Reserve your campsite early.  The reason we had to switch campsites was because no one campsite was open two nights in a row because we waited so long to book.  Apparently people in Oregon loves them some camping.
  5. Be prepared to leave early if you need to.  Because every well-intentioned plan needs a backup.  Or an escape route.

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I’m very glad we went.  I’m glad we didn’t come home early.

And I don’t plan to do this again any time soon.

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