Every summer my family and I go camping in Door County, Wisconsin. We meet up with my folks, and my sister and spend our days on the beach and nights sleeping in a tent. Tent camping is an adventure unto itself. It can be relaxing at times, laying on an air mattress and watching the stars through the zip up screen. Pretending to mind having to go lie down early with the kids, but actually feeling cozy and safe listening to the buzz of conversation and smelling the campfire while I lie there.
Other times, not so relaxing. Like when my son was teething and woke up with an arched back screech of pain. I could tell immediately that the wails were going to be unending and loud so I scooped him up and ran for the minivan. Jumped in and let out a chortle of victory. We made it! We would not be waking up the other campers again tonight! Until my son arched in pain again, stiffening his legs into an unbending position that pressed his feet down directly onto the horn.
Struggling with his swaddled, stiffened body it took me an eternity to get his feet off the horn and end the blaring, “Eeeeeeeeeeh” that resonated through the campground. My husband, came running out of the tent at the sound, and found me weeping with hysterical, sleep deprived laughter in the minivan holding our son. Who was fast asleep. And wanted to know why the hell I had just laid on the horn at midnight in a sleeping campground?
Put a hard plastic mat outside your tent for shoes. Not only will it help keep sand out of the tent, but it’s much easier to tell if “someone” didn’t bother to go all the way outside the tent to pee if you have a receptacle right at the doorway.
Stick sheets of bounce in all the little zippy pouches that hang from the tent’s interior. Anything else you put in there will be forgotten about and rolled up when the tents put away. And you’ll be grateful for that fresh scent after having to sleep next to a husband who subscribes to the “but we’re camping!” school of hygiene.
Buy the brightest, most intense walking flashlight or lantern you can find. Sure, other campers will think that UFOs are landing whenever you walk to the baths to pee. But when else but camping does it sound like a good idea to stroll through the woods by yourself at 2 in the morning? If a rabid coyote wants a piece of me I want to see it coming.
Bring your kid’s porta potty – even after they’ve been potty trained. I hear the raccoons plop, plop, plopping down from the trees when I lie in bed at night. And I use that porta potty rather than have my naked white heiny be mistaken for a loaf of wonder bread by the hungry critters.
Tell your children that if they leave the screened in tent flaps unzipped the invisible bear that lives in the woods will come into the tent and wait for them. It’s much more effective than yelling about mosquitoes.
Do not worry about shaving your legs, or other time consuming shower grooming. It’s far more sensible to get the hell out of dodge when a daddy longlegs the size of your firstborn is on the wall above the shower head.
Spray the insides of your sleeping bags with bug spray right before bedtime. And the tent screens, and the children, and anything else that will stand still for you.
Remember how you used the same dishes whenever you camped with your parents? You would wash them in the little plastic tub with a squirt of dish soap after fetching water from the pump? That wasn’t fun. Bring some paper plates.
Think of the trip as a trial separation from your shower, toilet and mattress. When you return you’ll forgive the low pressure, the wiggly toilet seat and the circa 1998 mattress. Sleeping at home will feel like a night at the fancy Holiday Inn when you were 10. Luxurious.