Last weekend, we successfully negotiated our first weekend of camping, all six of us. It was a delightful graduation of sorts, and while there were deep breaths and compromises, it felt deliciously thrilling to be doing something all together.
The campground is one of pristine beauty just twenty minutes from our house-- gorgeous pine and deciduous forest surrounding a small mountain lake. The campsites are wooded and private, situated along a mostly paved driveway which is perfect for kids and bikes. There is a private beach for the campers and, best of all, it's twenty minutes from our house. Did I mention it's only twenty minutes away? This relieves us of all concern that the camping trip will be a bust. Because if, at any point, any individual seems ill-suited to camping, she can be buckled into the car and delivered home in twenty minutes. This can happen at 7 PM, 11 PM, or even 2 AM.
Initially, I had intended to send Greg and the older kids up on Friday night and stay home with the little girls until they awoke on Saturday morning-- which would put me at the campsite at about 6:30 AM at the latest. It seemed worth missing the excitement of Friday to ensure the good sleep that would happen at home. Friday morning was dreary and rainy, and I even questioned if perhaps all of us might delay until Saturday. But then the sun came out, and steam began rising from the grass and trees. The afternoon became a beauty and suddenly I didn't want to miss out on even one minute of the trip, even in exchange for sleep. So at 4 PM on Friday, just an hour before our girls were "scheduled" to eat dinner and go straight to sleep, we began to frantically throw things into our two cars (yes, we brought both-- only ten miles away!) to send six people camping for two nights.
The best thing about car camping ten miles from your house is that you can bring whatever you want. Things from the cupboard were chucked into milk crates and sweaters and fleeces were stuffed into grocery sacks and a few bags were packed. Sleeping bags and air mattresses and pillows took up one whole back seat. Fiona's entire mattress from her little bed went into the trunk. I called the cafe along the way and ordered two pizzas for us to bring up to the park. At 5:30 we were off, and by 6 we were at our picnic table in our campsite eating gourmet, wood fired pizza while crickets chirped and birds sang overhead.
And now, for the best, best part. There were eight other families we knew coming up for the night, all with kids our kids' ages. Oh, the joy! The running, the biking, the shrieking. Our family had both the eldest and youngest children of the crew. Everybody's huge car-camping tent became the fort, every fire was game for another s'more. The alcohol prohibition at the campground was strictly ignored. Wine was poured, marshmallows were roasted, and the babies stayed up until 9:30. It felt so incredibly liberating. No bath, no books, no stories, no songs. The routine had been abandoned. It felt amazing.
The next morning the girls slept until 5:15, which felt like a major victory. Sunrise now is just past five, which puts first light at just past four, which was when I was planning to wake up. So I was pleased at this "late" sleep, and our morning at the campsite was relaxed, lazy, and quiet. Maeve pushed her doll around over the roots in her stroller and we ate Cheerios and bananas and brewed coffee and it was quite a joy. At 7 AM the campground came alive (quiet hours over) as the kids began flying between campsites. The coffee clatches began and pancakes were shared.
By 10 we were at the beach for what ended up being a rather windy, chilly morning, but children being children they enjoyed every minute. Between the families there were a canoe and kayak, which the children delighted in. I delighted in the company of so many other amazing women friends and loved watching my children just basking in their element-- hoards of other kids having fun. We returned to the campsite at around noon for lunch which was followed by a group-ish hike up to a fire tower with 360 degree views. We could see five states. It was so amazing. Fiona hiked over two miles on her own and Maeve nearly a mile.
That night we were able to get the girls down somewhat earlier, around 8, and the bedtime was much simpler due to their extreme exhaustion. There was one moment of panic in the night when Maeve awoke, hysterical, at midnight and carried on for four or five minutes. I thought I might have to take her home... but suddenly she quieted. We all lay there for a while, listening to a pair of Barred Owls hooting back and forth, and drifted back to sleep until a quarter past six the next morning. I awoke feeling absolutely victorious-- two nights in a tent with my whole family, with no white noise. We had done it.
Predictably, that morning was consumed with packing up all the things we'd hastily thrown into the cars two days earlier. Fortunately our children were extremely well entertained by all the other kids. There was a pack of six-year old girls desperate to be responsible for Maeve and Fiona, which felt just dandy to me. They were thrilled and I could actually organize our things so the chaos was slightly diminished when we arrived home. At just past noon, we left. She-who-never-sleeps-in-the-car fell asleep immediately and remained asleep in our driveway for an hour and a half after we arrived home. It was cloudy and overcast and we let the older three collapse on the couch in front of a movie about leprechauns. We sorted the things into thirteen loads of laundry and began washing.
It was a beautiful weekend.
And now, tomorrow, the last day of school. My first and third graders will become second and fourth graders. These tiny children, these little babies of mine are growing so fast.