We took the kids camping this summer. I haven’t done much camping in my adult life due to my inability to develop a talent for sleeping on the ground. And it is a talent, I can only assume, given that other camping people don’t seem to end up sleeping in puddles at 3 a.m. or have boulders rise up out of the ground to stab them in the shoulder, despite the tent area being a smooth sea of cushy grass at set-up time. Clearly, there is some sort of genetically-linked gift (strategically placed fat pockets?) that allow some people (the power of slight, unconscious levitation?) to sleep comfortably on the ground (bones that rubberize after dark? Internalized water repelling capabilities?). I don’t have that gift.

Despite this, when I think of my childhood, the times spent crammed into a tiny camper, eating Dinty Moore beef stew and roasting marshmallows, take up a surprising amount of memory space considering we only went for a week or two per year. Sometimes we took an old Army tent instead of the camper, and I can bring to mind the exact smell of that damp canvas, the ring of the metal poles as they clanked together in their bag, the feel of grit under my sleeping bag.

In contrast, I remember nothing about my entire second grade year. Not a thing. It’s a complete blur.

Anyway, given the importance that camping memories have for me, it was clear that I would need to find a way to take my kids off into the wild. And that way would have to keep me off the ground. And because we still have a half-built house, that way would have to be justifiably cheap. These conditions puzzled us for a while, but last fall some friends were selling their pop-up camper. Have you experienced the wonder of the pop-up? It’s got the scrappiness of a tent…but with beds. Beds that are a good five feet off the ground. My god, could anything be more perfect? Needless to say, we snapped that up and last weekend, we finally got around to taking it out.

Like other events on the child-adult experience divide (*cough* Christmas *cough*), once you cross to the other side you suddenly realize that things don’t just…happen like they did when you were kid. You don’t just “go camping” like I remembered. Before the camping part there is the buying and the cleaning and the packing and the sorting and the winnowing and reminding and the reserving and the panicking and the frantic searching and the testing and the hooking up and the driving and the unpacking and the…well. You probably get the point. It wasn’t how I remembered it.

Except for the part where “I just need to hook up the trailer. It will only take a minute” turns into an hour of sweating, swearing, debating, cajoling, wrestling, banging, finally connecting, and “Oh, hell, the lights don’t work. What should we do? Just drive carefully?” That part was EXACTLY how I remember it.

Other things were how I remembered them, as well. We went to Cobscook Bay State Park, which I tented in once, many moons ago, with Michael before we were married. (I know it must have been before we were married, because I sure wouldn’t have volunteered to sleep in a tent AFTER we were married.) My mother insists we went there when I was a kid, too, but I have no memory of that. In truth, I probably do have memories of it, but it’s just blurred into all the other state parks we’d camped in through the years. When we arrived, it was like a sudden time warp back to my childhood. Same pine needles, same pit toilets, same initials carved into the picnic table shelters, same state park brown paint slapped on every wooden surface. These state parks. They never change. They exist outside of time. They are stable and eternal. They are perfect.

It was a successful trip, but not perfect. We went fishing. We traipsed around back roads. We foraged some of our food–clams, mushrooms, berries, fish.  We washed dishes outside. The kids seem to fight more than I remember fighting with my sisters (SHUT UP, MOM), Sam got sick and didn’t sleep well, and I had to take Annabel on a middle-of-the-night run to the pit toilets where I heard something large breathe right next to me. It poured torrentially our first night and, while the camper didn’t leak, that unpleasant, musty dampness hung on.But I didn’t mind, what with being five feet off the ground.

On the morning we left I spent some time snuggled with Annabel on her bunk, looking out at the carpet of pine needles to the ocean beyond. “I really like this, Mom,” she said. “Do we really need to go? Can we do it again?”

Yep. We can.

camping

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