The first summer we were married, my husband and I camped for a week at Kingswood Campsite in Hancock, New York. I remember watching the Perseid Meteor Shower in the dark woods, reading novels and eating gingersnaps, and sitting in front of the campfire at night, marveling at how wonderful it was to be married and in love, and to imagine returning here someday with children.
Part of my heart will always be at Kingswood – I’m full of visual memories about my family camping trips there throughout my childhood. I remember…
- My Oma and Grampa, aunts, uncles and cousins all camping at the same time as my family. We kids went hiking, blackberry picking, played Little House in the Big Woods in the fields, and invented all kinds of games while swimming in the pond.
- Eating peaches and reading all three Pippi Longstocking books during one spectacular week (I was about 8 years old).
- Singing by the campfire with my extended family, with their love and four-part harmony surrounding me.
- My entire life changing when I became ill as a teenager, but Kingswood remaining the same. I was still brought camping, but as an adolescent I’d lie on a blanket all day like an infant, while cousins came to visit with me, or I’d listen to the BBC on shortwave radio. It was a relief that Kingswood was still part of my life.
- Bringing my future husband to Kingswood when we were dating, and realizing with great relief that he liked to camp.
- Sitting by the campfire, as newlyweds, dreaming of bringing our children to that very campsite.
Seven years later, Rob and I were finally ready to camp with our kids. Last week our 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son spent one night at Kingswood with their grandparents, and Rob and I planned to join them and camp at our own site for the next few days afterwards.
Here are some glimpses into our first experience camping with two young kids:
You Look Marvelous…
If you know my husband and me, you know that we can be a bit goofy. Years ago, our iPod randomly played Billy Crystal’s You Look Marvelous not only upon our arrival, but once again on as we left Kingswood, too! It struck us as funny, so now my husband and I always play that song when we arrive and leave via Kingswood’s bumpy dirt road. We begin our less-than-glamorous experiences at Kingswood (no makeup, no hair styling, just peace, quiet, and time to listen to God and nature) with a self-absorbed, silly song.
Grandma’s cabin…and a rather full clothesline
My mom is program director at Kingswood’s family camp and stays in a cabin there for most of the summer. We were so excited to greet our kids at her cabin when we arrived. Our younger child, our son, ran up to greet me:
“Mommy! I misted you!” (missed you)
“I missed you to, honey. Are you having a good time?”
“Yes – there’s an outhouse!!”
It seems so fitting that one of the most exciting things to a 3-year-old would be the outhouse (latrine).
I noticed that he was naked from the waist down, and that the clothesline at my mom’s cabin was full of my youngest child’s underwear and pants. My mom laughed: “This gives you an idea how the potty training is going!” (Kingswood does have a nice Oasis with showers and toilets, but our kids found the latrines more remarkable!)
Our home sweet home, for a few days…
We settled into our tent site with our kids and soon felt at home. It was funny how quickly it seemed like “our” space once we hung up a clothesline, got out a lantern and flashlights, and made the kids’ beds. We were ready! Bring on the camping fun.
A parenting lesson: No slippery sleeping bags!
Our first night sleeping in the tent went badly…hilariously badly. We were in a lovely platform tent with six cots. Our kids borrowed sleeping bags from my parents and each was in their own twin-bed sized cot. However, I failed to consider how slippery the sleeping bags were on the outside, and the impact this would have on our night.
7:30pm – Both kids were tucked in their beds, and we overheard our youngest telling the oldest to be quiet! Stop telling stories! Soon, both were asleep. Rob and I played cards, I started reading my giant stack of childbirth books from the library, and we were happy. (We even lucked out – a skunk meandered into our dining shelter, stopped and stared at Rob, raised its tail, and then ran away! Escaping a skunk’s spray seemed like a good omen – it was going to be a lucky trip!)
9:30pm – I snuck into the tent to go to sleep, and found that our daughter had fallen out of bed. She was sound asleep on the wood floor, holding her head as if she was in pain. I put her mattress on the floor, kissed her until she woke up, and explained that I was about to lift her onto her mattress, and that she’d sleep on the floor so she wouldn’t fall again. She went right back to sleep….and I lay awake in my sleeping bag, listening to the sounds of our son wiggling in his sleeping bag, waiting for him to fall on the floor, too.
2:15am – I woke up, starving (I’m pregnant!), nauseous, and needing to pee, and decided to pretend that none of this was happening, for the sake of not waking up our kids. I heard our son slipping and sliding in his sleeping bag again…and could not go to sleep.
2:45am – Our son fell out of bed and landed on the floor. I put him back in bed, told our daughter to go back to sleep, and tried to do the same myself. (Of course, I stayed awake.)
3:15am – Our son lost one of his stuffed animals and woke up upset. I got him settled again and lay in my sleeping bag quietly.
3:30am – Our son lost his other important stuffed animal. I asked him to please try to lie still.
3:45am – I got up to wander in the dark, because morning sickness was really kicking in and I didn’t want to throw up in the tent. It’s hard for a pregnant lady to not bring food into a tent! (We didn’t want to attract bears or other animals, so all food was in the car.)
4:00am – Our son fell out of bed again. This time he’d done a complete 180-degree turn before falling onto the floor! I informed him that he, too, would now have his mattress placed on the floor, and he could sleep next to his sister. He pitched a temper tantrum worthy of his age (3), and I caved…it was the middle of the night…and I put him back in his bed. I stayed awake.
4:30am – Our daughter needed to go to the outhouse.
4:45am – Our daughter started telling loud “tuck tuck stories” to try to lull herself back to sleep, and was very upset when we asked her to tone it down, since it was the middle of the night and both parents had been up since around 2:30am.
6:00am – Our oldest declared she just couldn’t stay in bed anymore – she was too hungry! – so she and I got up to have “mother-daughter time” at Kingswood.
6:15am – My 5-year-old and I ate cold cereal, played tic-tac-toe, and started hunting for wood for our campfire, and it was lovely.
I was absolutely exhausted, but kept glancing across the campsite to the very spot where Rob and I sat seven years earlier, dreaming of returning with our children, and I thought, so this is what it’s about! You get up (and stay up) all night with your kids, and then teach them to play tic-tac-toe. You’re with your kids, in the beautiful outdoors, at this special place. I can do this. (Now where is the coffee?)
The next night, both kids slept with their mattresses on the floor, surrounded by suitcases (make-shift walls, to keep them in their beds.)
Signs of healing
We only made brief day trips to Kingswood the two previous summers, because I could barely walk across a campsite due to joint and back pain. It was so sad. Kingswood is like a second home and it was very hard to not be able to explore it (or even handle walking within a campsite). I missed the week-long camping vacations that were part of my childhood and youth. And then, this year brought a huge change.
Last fall I began an anti-inflammatory diet that has been life-changing for me, and during last week’s trip I was able to walk back and forth within our campsite without much difficulty. I even could set aside my cane and go exploring in the brush, looking for campfire wood. I couldn’t go on hikes, or even walk down the road with the kids, but I could move a lot within our campsite, in ways that would have been impossible a year ago. I was profoundly grateful. Last summer, I could hardly walk 4-5 steps without pain, but this year I was the one gathering firewood!
Rain, rain go away…
We were lucky to have a few hours each morning without rain. There was just enough time for our daughter to show off her rowing skills at the pond and to do a craft with Grandma. Other than brief morning reprieves it rained for most of our two days there. I had a lot of fun trying to build campfires with damp wood (bring on the challenge!) and was constantly drying kindling on the grate where I’d expected to actually cook. Our children loved finding newts and frogs, asking questions about nature, and getting muddy and sticky. This is what camping is all about! However, by the end of our second day of rain we were out of firewood, tired of being wet, and out of ways to entertain two small kids when it was pouring. There were no other kids around for them to play with. I was torn – I finally felt relaxed and would have loved to have stayed longer. But everything was wet and we needed to get home and prepare for the work week. With some regret, we said “goodbye” to Kingswood for another summer, and packed our damp belongings into an increasingly muddy car.
You know that a place is special to you when all you want to do is to stay, even as the rain pours down. We’re full of ideas about next year’s camping trip (we’ll have a baby with us!). We hope to plan a longer vacation at a time when lots of young cousins and friends can romp together.
We will be back. For now, we are full of memories.