God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. —The Serenity Prayer
Alcoholics Anonymous may be responsible for the popularity of the Serenity Prayer, but that doesn't mean it isn't perfect in other situations, like taking your kids camping. As soon as you accept the things you can't change, you will quickly and easily stop fantasizing about faking your own death or “discovering" your minivan's tires have been slashed just before your next family camping trip.
Here are four truths I've learned on our family camping trips:
You will touch all the things, none will spark joy
This is the Life-Changing Hassle of Packing Up. Camping is packing all the things, only to unpack, pack, unpack, and wash them, usually within a 36 to 72 hour window. Loudly sighing and muttering, “The kids' sun hats, lovies, toothbrushes, and jammies aren't going to pack themselves" through gritted teeth and zipping duffel bags with the intensity of a thousand blazing suns will not change this fact. Believe me, I've tried.
You can forget about quality sleep
You're exhausted by the time you arrive. Anyone would be after driving to the edge of nowhere with a soundtrack of “Are we there yet?" on repeat. A nap would be perfect, but only if you find it rejuvenating to sleep in a pool of your own sweat. Tents become saunas by about 8am in the summer.
Going to sleep early sounds amazing, except for the whole part about your kids being there. If you're smart, you have blackout shades for your tent. (File that under things you can actually change!) Or, like me, you were too lazy to Google whether there was actually such a thing as tent blackout shades until you wrote this article. Just accept that you might as well enjoy another plastic cup of boxed wine because your kids are too amped up on s'mores and daylight to stop moving, let alone sleep.
So you figure everyone will just sleep in but – are you even still reading this? Of course your kids won't sleep in. Even if they did sleep past six am, there's the whole issue of your tent turning into a steam room by eight. Also, your sleeping bag is resting on a thin foam pad or an aerobed that's lost sixty per cent of its air by sunrise. All of this makes you so uncomfortable that getting out of bed and starting the day at a quarter past daybreak, crappy sleep notwithstanding, is your best option.
Your kids will be dirty and sticky the whole time
If you can't stand the look or feel of little hands and faces (and arms, legs, feet, backs, necks, and hair) caked in a mixture of high fructose corn syrup and dirt, it will be better to just not look at or touch your kids the entire time you're camping. Accept that no amount of baby wipes or hand sanitizer will be sufficient to get your kids looking like they didn't just crawl out of a coal mine. Between sunblock, bug spray, dirt, s'mores residue, and all the other unidentified detritus their little bodies attract, getting the kids clean is a lost cause. Don't waste energy chasing them with a washcloth. You're better off conserving your resources for when you have to load up the car and unload it again.
You will not get laid
Just forget it. Before you had kids, a tent (or anywhere) was a fantastic place to have sex. Now… just no. It's one thing to have some grown-up time at home with your kids hovering around your locked bedroom door while you yell, “Not right now, we're busy, take the iPad! Yes, you heard me right!" It's quite another to get your freak on in the same tent as your kids. Sure, you could wait until they're fast asleep, but that flies directly in the face of truth number two in this article. You may want to head to funky town but your tired body is on the express train to dreamland the second your tent falls silent.
I grew up in a family whose idea of enjoying nature was strolling through a flea market or spending a day at the beach. It was my fate to marry a fourth generation Coloradan. The active pursuit of discomfort is in his DNA. While I'll never choose camping over staying in an air-conditioned hotel, I'm proud to report I've never stabbed my better half with a marshmallow roasting stick, either. It's all about acceptance.