Gone Camping…with My Children

My husband and I use to be very avid campers. For our wedding, we registered at REI. Many of my favorite memories of our relationship involve camping trips to Vermont or Glacier or Yellowstone. Inspired by John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie, I insisted we leave our rain fly off the tent when we camped in the Badlands because I wanted to see the stars he wrote about with such reverence. So we loved to camp, to cram our possessions into a backpack and tromp off into the woods.

And then we had kids.

We have not been camping since before I got pregnant with Miles, and he’s about to turn 4 years old. I missed camping, darn it! But I had such anxiety about taking my kids, especially once we had Felix. I mean, what do you even do with a baby in a tent? It’s not like he has a sleeping bag.

baby napping in a tent

You see him napping in there? He did *not* do any of that at nighttime

A few years ago, I read a New York Times article about a family who lives in a yurt in Alaska. They trek up and down the country with their kids, and they do it with cloth diapers. Plus, they live in a yurt. So obviously I know it’s possible to camp with children. I just felt scared to try it.

Last weekend, my husband suggested we just suck it up and take the kids camping. Sort of last minute, which threw me off guard, but didn’t leave me time to talk myself out of it. I had so much to think about–what we were going to eat, my family of picky eaters? Where would baby Felix sleep? What the heck would I wear, because it was much too hot for my favorite nursing tanks in addition to a regular shirt. None of my performance camping clothing qualifies as “nursing friendly.”

I fretted over it all for awhile and decided to make spaghetti on our camp stove, banana muffins for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and also that I’d rather sweat in the nursing tank than expose my post-partum belly lifting up my wicking shirts. We would all be sleeping on inflated camp pads and I just threw in a few quilts for Felix.

And off we went.

The kids absolutely loved being in the woods. I loved watching them find acorns and sticks. I didn’t pack any toys for them on purpose. Usually, they just love to play with recycling, anyway, and I wanted them to find frogs and bugs (which they did!).

We camped near a lake, and I had this beautiful moment where Felix was playing in the sand on the shore while my husband threw Miles into the water. Everyone was laughing and having so much fun, I thought, This is what I envisioned when I wanted to have a family. My boys even held hands as they walked/toddled back to our tent for bedtime.

Oh, bedtime. I’m not going to mince words. Nighttime was a horrifying experience for me.

The kids took over two hours to get to sleep in the woods with so much going on, and Felix was up basically all night. I nursed him at the first sign of stirring because I felt anxious that other campers would hear him crying. Also? I had forgotten to pack our pillows. Have you ever tried side-lying nursing in a tent in the woods with no pillows? My neck hurt so very badly. The super moon I was so excited to see away from the city’s light pollution shone so brightly into my eyes as I lay awake nursing a restless, sweaty baby. I was angry with myself for insisting we leave the rain fly off the tent, even though the cool breeze did feel good. And, ok, it was pretty magical to see such a moon…for hours and hours and hours when I should have been sleeping.

They were both up with the sun right around 5am, and I wept a little bit, because I was so tired.

My husband then did the most romantic thing: After I went to the bathroom and dug out the breakfast muffins, he let me sleep in the tent until 8am! The rest was just enough to convince me we should try it again sometime soon. Next time, I’ll remember to pack our pillows.

Have you ever taken your kids camping? Leave a comment to share some must-pack essentials for families with young or nursing children in the woods.

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