Camping with kids: would you rather poke sticks in your eyes?

Go Camping, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.  So, with a blank calendar both weekend days, and for no particular reason than to get unplugged for a while, us city folk hitched on the camper-trailer and headed for cowpad country.

One could question the sense of a one-night trip; all that packing and driving and unpacking for less than 24hrs? (And yes, on our return I did wash four heads of hair twice each to exorcise that smoky campfire smell). But the beauty of knowing it’s just one night makes you way less precious packing (hey, if we forget it, we’ll be back tomorrow). Besides, everyone knows that the first night of a trip when enthusiasm is in full flush and expectations are high often plays out to be the best night of a downhill run (as the tiredness/hangover/sandy bed is yet to make an appearance). So, in some ways, mini-trips are adventuring at its most efficient.

The bubbling excitement of finding beanies, marshmallows and sleeping bags did take a dip when I mentioned the iPads were specifically uninvited, but the boys soon found pressing activities to fill the time like ideal marshmallow-stick procurement and kindling appraisal duties. Bike paths and creek beds were explored, pizza and marshmallows were burned, and even a few books were cracked opened (which I was too scared to mention out loud in case they closed them again).  We saw giant centipedes, pink shiny beetles, a family movie in a hay barn, and a dog with a bowtie.

The weekend was not without low points; the skinned knees and windburn, the cold four-am pee in the bush, the argy-bargy over who stole the last biscuit/got the good chair/the good bed (not to mention an inordinate amount of chip-consumption per capita and my niggling fear that I’d started a career raising little arsonists).

There were also the incidents – running out of gas (the oven, not the dog), a curious decision by one pyromaniac to pour water over the fire we’d painstakingly built ‘to see what happens’ and wishing the dog’s new coat came with a bidet after what ensued after the emergency roadside toilet break. But what day in the life of parents of three boys and one canine is ever incident free? I’m nothing if not realistic.

Travel with kids outside your comfort zone usually creates extremes, both good and bad. If I counted the ‘good’ bits (a peaceful sunset nursing a wine, hoeing into wood-fired toast and bacon and eggs in the crisp country air, and seeing the boys watching the sky instead of a screen), with the humdrum hours of washing and organizing you need to do to get there, it would be a fairly unbalanced equation. Perhaps I have low standards, but my theory is, if any trip has one unique, perfect moment – a joke everyone belly-laughs at, a song everyone screams to, a cow you catch mid-crap that makes your children cackle – just a second where you forget your everyday routine and just experience something new together, you’re winning.

And to create that only takes a moment.

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