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.
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:
SUCCESS! She’s ASLEEP!
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.
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!