It’s that time of year. I’ve been thinking about summer vacation and wondering what we can do as a family to get away without spending a boatload of money. Camping is pretty much the only option, but camping with kids is hard. We did a two-week trip to the Maritimes in 2011 with an almost-two-year-old in the car. Surprisingly, the long hours of driving were less a problem than negotiating the campsites because, as soon as we got out of the car, he took off like a bullet. One of us had to follow him while the other struggled to set up the tent, make dinner, collect water, and do all the other innumerable necessary tasks involved with camping. When things got desperate, we’d stick him in the car where he pretended to drive the car, but as soon as he discovered the horn early one morning on Prince Edward Island (it was before 7 a.m.), we had a real problem on our hands. I’m surprised but didn’t get kicked out of the campsite — or at least get told by someone that we’d personally ruined their vacation.
Camping is one of those things that I say I like because I like it in theory and have done tons of it, but when I stop to analyze it closely, I realize I don’t actually like camping that much. I love going places, but if I could stay in hotels for every night that there’s the possibility of rain, I’d do so happily. This is a disturbing revelation for someone who grew up camping. My first trip occurred when I was seven weeks old. I’ve camped almost every summer of my life since then. My parents have taken me out east more times than I can remember; we’ve driven to the west coast of Canada; explored northern Ontario, the St Lawrence River, and the Eastern Seaboard. Everything went well until the infamous Newfoundland trip.
We went for a month. I was 18, my sister was 16, my brothers 8 and 6. All of us piled into the minivan and headed east. It rained the first night, the second night, the third night, and so on. In fact, it rained every single day that month, except for two days. Newfoundland was so shrouded in fog that I only caught a glimpse of the fjords for which Gros Morne is so famous. Our pillows and sleeping bags began to stink and the towels turned mouldy because there was no way for anything to dry out. My parents’ solution was just to keep driving, so we drove up the entire western coast of Newfoundland and took another ferry all the way to Labrador in hopes of escaping the rain. In Labrador, unfortunately, the mosquitoes were practically the size of bumblebees. I have a memory of doing the dishes while running laps around the picnic table, while Mom and the boys huddled in the van.
To top it all off, I was a moody 18-year-old who was going to leave for a year in Brazil as soon as I got home and I wanted to be anywhere but trapped with my family. To make matters worse, just before leaving, I’d had an embarrassing surgery on a cyst in my butt crack which refused to heal, got infected, and kept landing me in hospitals along the way. Sitting on my rear for days on end didn’t help with healing, even after I bought an inflatable donut that raised me four inches above the rest of the family in the van. It was a very bad situation all around. On the night that my mom handed me two gigantic fish and told me to figure out how to clean, debone, and fillet them somehow in a picnic shelter, I had an emotional breakdown while covered in bloody fish guts. We had a big family conference with plenty of crying and finally my mom agreed to tone down the over-enthusiastic scheduling and try to comprehend my misery. Matters improved somewhat, but I haven’t truly enjoyed a camping trip ever since.
So, you see, I have some residual baggage when the subject of family camping trips comes up. I realize I need to exorcise those demons because I do want my children to grow up camping — and enjoying it — but I also want to go about planning those trips with a bit more astuteness than my parents did. Or maybe it’s more about planning the trips according to what my comfort level can tolerate — and 28 straight days of rain would definitely call for a Plan B in my books. And that is yet another reason why I love being an adult!