So, We Went Camping

When I look back at my postpartum experience, what stands out most to me is how incredibly high the highs were and how painfully low the lows were. Camping was kinda like that.

The pictures are going to show you a series of carefully curated, picture-perfect memories, so I’m going to tell you the story that the pictures don’t tell.

We timed our departure from home so that we’d be packed and ready to go by nap time and Charlotte could sleep in the car. Charlotte did not sleep in the car. Not one wink.

We arrived and set up camp, which basically means one of us unloaded the car and set up camp while the other chased Charlotte around the campground and tried to keep her from choking on the acorns she kept picking up and shoving into her mouth.

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We holed up in the tent for a little while because Charlotte was absolutely exhausted by this point, but all an hour of nursing, singing and rocking got me was a toddler who was flopping from one air mattress to the next giggling like mad. We gave up, slathered her in sunscreen, and took her to the beach.

After the beach, she could barely hold her head up. We got her clean(ish) and dry(ish) and this happened:

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SUCCESS! She’s ASLEEP!

At 3pm.

Nothing good can come of a 3 pm nap. We holed up in the tent with her while she napped, and we let her sleep until 4:30.

Once she was up, we decided to take another stroll down to the beach to catch the sunset. The kid had napped, and we were watching the sunset together in one of my favorite places in the world. Life was good. For about an hour.

We returned to camp to cook dinner only to discover that the propane pressure regulator for our camp stove was broken, which rendered our stove completely unusable. At this point, the sky was rapidly darkening, and that’s when I also discovered that we hadn’t packed a lantern. All we had was a crappy battery powered LED one that barely lights up the table, let alone giving us enough light to keep tabs on Charlotte, who was running clumsily around the camp site like she was both drunk and high on something.

Tempers flared as we were trying to sort out how we were going to cook macaroni and cheese on an open campfire while keeping tabs on our wild child in the dark.

I think this was around the time that we discovered that we’d also forgotten the plates. They had been sitting right on the table where we were staging everything to pack, and somehow neither of us packed them. Great. (Upon returning home, we discovered that the plates had been conveniently relocated beneath an ottoman in the living room—thank you, toddler—which explains how they never got packed.)

I don’t know what time it was when we went into the tent to try to get Charlotte to bed, but I know it was well past her usual bedtime. Once again, the tent became a fun house for the kiddo. All she wanted to do was bounce around on the air mattresses and giggle. Frustrating, yes—but also pretty damn adorable.

Charlotte didn’t pass out until after 10 pm. More than 3 hours after her bedtime. She proceeded to have the worst night of sleep she’s had in ages. She tossed and turned and cried and fussed almost all night long.

At 6:30 am, Charlotte sat bolt upright in the tent and started WAILING. We’re talking inconsolable, panicked, angry, scared SCREAMING at the top of her lungs. In a tent. While the world around us is still trying to sleep off the tequila they were up drinking until the wee hours of the morning.

Nothing worked. We couldn’t calm her down. We ended up locking ourselves in the car to muffle her cries until she eventually calmed down. I don’t know how long she cried, but I can tell you that she hasn’t cried like that since she was an infant.

After that, Charlotte ran around throwing herself on the ground and screaming for reasons discernible only to her. Overtired toddlers are no joke. I cooked oatmeal on the campfire and tried not to light myself on fire in the process. Catch stared glassy eyed at our camp site and started mentally packing us up to go home.

We fought over that, too. She wanted to leave. I wanted to stick it out. In the end, Catch gave up and we went back to the beach.

Fog had rolled in overnight, and the beach was covered in patches of mist.

We left the beach when Charlotte had reached a point where she was so overtired that she couldn’t even function. Could we get her to nap? No. Another frustrating hour in the tent trying to get her to sleep, and it just wasn’t happening. We decided to take a break from the campground and get in the car and drive up the coast a bit. Charlotte was asleep before we even got out of the campground.

We drove for an hour and a half so she’d stay asleep. We ended up at a Walmart, where we were able to buy a new valve for our camp stove as well as a propane lantern. By this point, we were starving and ended up at the Olive Garden out of sheer desperation after the first restaurant we tried was closed.

Thankfully, all of us felt better after our little excursion. When we finally made it back to camp in the late afternoon, it felt like we might just survive this trip.

Charlotte made friends with the girls from the camp next to us, and our Grinchy hearts grew three sizes as we watched them play.

We hit the nature trail for another stroll, and ended up back at the ocean.

Charlotte was once again overtired and tantrum-y at this point, so we settled back in at camp. We were still full from our late lunch, so we decided to just pull up some Elmo on our phones and let the kiddo have a pouch and a granola bar by the fire before we put her to bed.

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A few minutes before 7, she kissed mama goodnight and we headed into the tent. She fought like a banshee—screaming and thrashing as I tried to nurse/rock/sing to her—but by 7:05, she was sound asleep in my arms. I was able to put her down and slip back out of the tent to enjoy the rest of the evening by the fire.

She slept SO much better the second night. I slept like crap because the people next to us were up being obnoxious half the night, but I felt better knowing that Charlotte was at least asleep.

The morning was a whirlwind of pancakes (on our functioning stove!) and packing. I’m usually pretty sad when it’s time to go home, but this time I was more relieved than anything.

I think I’m glad we went. I mean, we certainly had some adventures, and got some great photos. I knew going in that this wasn’t going to be easy. I knew she was going to have trouble sleeping, but I didn’t know it was going to be quite this bad. Obviously, Charlotte has never done this before, and she had no idea what was going on. It shouldn’t have been surprising that she didn’t understand how she was supposed to sleep in tent.

Much as I hate to say it, I think the only solution to the misery of this trip is to go camping with her more often. I’m just not mentally prepared to think about that right now!

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19 thoughts on “So, We Went Camping

  1. I love that your conclusion at the end of your trip was to go more, and my conclusion was to never even try again!! Hahaha! Honestly, I think you are right, going more will help them learn and explore because the reality is we are never all going to sleep in our own beds every night of our lives. It’s hard, but those happy moments are totally worth the stress and crazy of the “vacation”.

    • Haha–I noticed that! We’ve been REALLY proud of ourselves for how well we got Charlotte’s sleep structured. I mean, she won’t sleep through the night, but she goes down at bedtime and for naps like a champ. Unfortunately, the down side to that rigid routine is that when we take her away from it, all hell breaks loose. This was our wake up call that we need to break her from her routine more often so she can be more flexible! It’s really not about us anymore, is it? It’s all about the kids and letting them have the experiences that we take for granted. I guess if we want a real vacation, we need to ditch the little ones and go alone!

  2. Well the pictures sure are amazing! Next time you go she will be older and wiser to the intricacies of surviving camping and tent sleeping and I’m sure it will get better and better every time you go 🙂

      • I was kind of jealous of the families that had older kids because they could all play together while the adults sat by the fire! In a few more years, she’ll be a camping pro. Catch is already teaching her how to fill a pot with water from the spigot. LOL

  3. I think the thing I miss the most from my pre-kid life is camping. We’ve only gone real camping once. I hope we can figure out a way to fit it back into our lives in the next year or two because we both love it and want our kiddos to love it. Kuddos to you 3 for sticking it out!

    • I was really missing it, too. It had been 2 years since we’d gone, which is unheard of for us. I’m glad we did it–hopefully next time we can do it better!

  4. I’m sorry for the downs, but glad you were able to convince Catch to stick it out. Just a quick thought – if you think she needs practice sleeping in a tent, what about setting one up at home and practicing there? I don’t know if it would be similar enough, but you’d have an out 😀

    • You know, I thought about doing that before we went. I would have if Catch hadn’t been out of town all week. I think we will definitely do a warm-up in the back yard before our next trip.

  5. OMG. That all sounds really hard. But, I agree, the likely solution is to just keep going. I didn’t grow up camping, so I don’t always see the value in it, but the folks I know who did loved it so much and it seems like they remember it from day 1, so starting early is probably best. Good job managing it all and sticking through it!

    • I agree–starting early seems to be the key. I was conceived on a camping trip! Hah. How’s that for starting early? Camping is in my blood! Charlotte is going to have a lot of unhappy vacations in her childhood if she doesn’t like camping, because Catch and I usually go several times a year–hopefully by exposing her early, she’ll grow up appreciating it. Now we just have to learn how to appreciate camping with a kid!

  6. You did it! You survived! Hooray for you!

    Also, the photos are gorgeous and I suspect they will become your dominant memories from the trip sooner than you think. In the meantime, though, enjoy the comforts of home and your kid’s sleep schedule.

  7. You girls are so brave. I just don’t have the patience (or like camping enough) to take the boys camping. I’m amazed by how you stuck it out and it ended with such a lovely night. We found that Dumplin’ really struggles the first night sleeping in a new place. He has relied on his routine so much that whenever we sleep somewhere else it’s too novel that he’s overstimulated. Our first night in Seattle was spent trying to console him the whole night (he truly cried the WHOLE NIGHT), but by night 2 he was so tired that he finally passed out at his regular bedtime. I’m a shitty sleeper though- and don’t deal well with sleeping in new places either, so I can’t really blame him. But really- your photos!!!!! I am sure you’ll go camping more now that the worst is behind you.

    • Thank you! We love to go to El Capitan State Beach–just outside of Santa Barbara. Reservations are online at Reserveamerica.com, but they’re HARD to come by. Your best bet is to set up an alert for any open space on the weekend you want to go and they’ll email you as sites come available. I recommend looking at the website campsitephotos.com before booking a space so you can scope out whether there’s shade or if it looks like there will be a ton of poison oak at your site.

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