We brought our novels and weeks-old People magazines. We packed wine bottles and sexy adult snacks (olives and camembert) in our coolers, fishing rods and hiking shoes in the back of our vehicles. The contents of our bags revealed our expectations of the weekend – so hopeful, so unfussy – testaments to our irrational belief that a multi-family, end-of-summer camping trip would actually allow us adults a moment to kick back.
Leisure is, after all, a relative term when kids are an (equal) part of the equation.
It’s funny; even after a couple of kids have completely bulldozed any semblance of the easy simplicity of pre-parenthood adult life, parents like us still seem to hang onto the belief that we can somehow recapture some fragment of our past existence. Like if we plunk our children into the woods, next to a river and a campfire, to run amuck dirt-covered and half-dressed, we will ourselves find a little time to relax. Like somehow, between making sure young children don’t get swept away by the river or burned by the campfire, or lost in the woods, we could actually sit down with a glass of wine and a hunk of French cheese to read a trashy magazine.
There is the ideal, which I suppose is a good thing to continue to aspire for, and then there is the real.
And in reality, taking five kids camping is like signing up for a weekend of servitude.
We inevitably roll into camp in the dark, past dinnertime. Elle needs a hat. Where are those mittens I packed her? Here they are. Put these on. No, really, put them on. No? Fine then. Your fingers are going to freeze off.
At least I have one child who can’t yet argue with me about what she should wear. But that child will have to spend the rest of the weekend wrapped in a sleeping bag, seeing as I apparently failed to pack any warm clothes for her whatsoever. I have no warm clothes for Emme, but I did bring 42 diapers – enough for a week.
After whipping out a dinner of champions (macaroni and cheese with tuna) for the kids, the decibel level of their communal whining makes it clear that bedtime cannot wait. Not to mention it’s freezing outside. I thought it was funny that Craig insisted upon sleeping outside instead of in our cozy camp trailer, alongside my two girls, my girlfriend and her three-year-old, plus the two dogs (one ours, another borrowed.) I realize at about 3 a.m., as I hover blanket-less on the edge of the too-small bed where my girls are sprawled, listening to one dog scratching the door to get out while the other whines to be let back in, how smart my husband was in deciding to sleep outside in the frost.
At about noon the next day, after potty duty then feeding duty then diaper-changing duty then dish duty then locating shoes duty then removing splinters duty, I get out of my pajamas. I want to brush my teeth, but realize Elle has dropped my toothbrush in the dirt.
The dads say they’ll take two of the older kids fishing, while the moms take the others for a hike. Superb idea, we all agree – not that the dads stand any real chance of catching a fish, or that the moms will actually hike very far. I can’t tell if the couple who meet us on the trail are irritated by our singing “The ants go marching,” or if they’re simply traumatized by the sound of the wailing infants hanging in various contraptions off our bodies.
We all meet back at camp for nap time, which is code for cocktail hour. Except that between pee-pee accidents (I am starting to realize I didn’t bring enough clothes for Elle, either,) and attempting to dissipate squabbles concerning the ownership of one apparently essential toy cement mixer truck, my drink is left unattended and eventually becomes the final resting grounds for a hornet. No one, child or adult, feels very rested after nap time.
In what could be considered the most herculean act of the weekend, between the five adults we manage to make an “adult” dinner: Farmer’s Market lamb kabobs, cooked over the campfire. But when dinner is ready, we aren’t.
Craig is washing Derek’s muddy hands in the river. Dave is chasing Allegra away from the fire. Kam took Elle to the bathroom. Kalee took Emme down the road in hopes she would quit screaming. I am looking for the aforementioned cement mixer with Grayson.
At some point, all of our missions culminate back near the tablecloth-covered picnic table, where I had, in a delusional moment, lit a candle for what I had imagined (in another delusional moment) would be our nice, sit-down, adult dinner. Someone manages to fill five glasses with wine.
Before another cement mixer fight breaks out, or someone starts crying, pees their pants or gets a splinter, we cheers. We may not be the group in control, but at least we’re in this parenting adventure together.