Long before I became a mommy, I dreamed of camping with my children. After all, some of my happiest childhood memories were playing with my little brother in the woods or on the banks of a river by day and sleeping in a tent or a trailer at night. Our family spent at least one weekend each month camping and went on longer adventures during the summertime. In the mornings, my mom would wake us up with a steaming washcloth she’d heated with hot water from the kettle and then make a fantastic camp breakfast on the Coleman stove. In the evenings, we’d sit around the campfire, trying to see how much we could poke the embers with sticks before Mom told us to stop. Sometimes my dad would play the guitar and we’d sing “Froggie Went A-Courtin.’” It felt like we were always camping during my brother’s birthday in late March, and my mom would bake him his birthday brownies in the trailer. They were always a little bit too gooey but we didn’t care! We ran around barefoot, named squirrels (including Charlie, who we were sure was blind), climbed trees, waded in the creek, rode bikes around the campground with other kids, got stung by bees or stinging nettle, caught fish, read books, slept outside on cots, got utterly filthy, and didn’t miss TV one bit. What a wonderful childhood! (Thanks, Mom and Dad.)
I grew up camping because it’s what my parents did, and it’s what their parents did, too. (Read my Dad’s perspective here.) John and I knew we were meant to be together the summer we camped all over the western U.S. for a total of 8 weeks in teeny tiny Betty. When Oden came along, I couldn’t wait for his first camping trip. John and I agreed that we would do our best to continue enjoying our favorite activities and Oden would just come along with us, even if it made the experience a tad more difficult than we were used to. Twice, our camping plans were shut down due to weather. But on the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, with mostly blue skies in the forecast, we decided to join some friends and tug Betty into the desert in Eastern Utah. Hooray!
I knew it while it was happening, but I certainly overpacked. I figured it was better to be safe than sorry with a 3-month-old baby in a trailer in the desert with no electricity or water for a few days. If I ever said that camping prep was a lot of work before we had a baby, I didn’t know what I was talking about! We took it down a notch compared to what we normally do on our camping trips. I kept the menu simple and, though I love creative camp cooking, it took some of the pressure off for this first trip. Somehow, we fit three days and nights’ worth of food, clothing, and baby gear into our little 13-foot cottage on wheels and hit the road, fingers crossed that Oden would sleep during the drive to McCoy Flats. (He mostly did!)
When we arrived at the camp spot our friends had secured a few hours earlier, the sun was just starting to set. The weather was perfect- not too cold, but chilly enough to start a campfire and add a layer or two. Our usual set-up routine was somewhat interrupted by well-deserved cocktails, the glorious desert sunset, cooing at the baby, and catching up with our friends. Mike and Kirsten also have a little one; Lily is 15 months old and it was comforting to be out in the “wild” with another young family. We were all in the same boat, for better or for worse!
We got Betty situated, set up Oden’s cozy little travel bassinet, and did our best to do his nighttime routine (sans bath time). We set up the baby monitor app we’d downloaded and sat by the fire with our friends, eating delicious pasta and listening for signs of an unhappy baby. There were none- he slept at least 7 hours! I realized that the anxiety about camping with Oden was thanks to my own insecurity about whether or not I could do it. As long as the baby’s needs were met, he’d be pretty content, wherever we were. I made a mental note to remember that for the future.
Our morning started pretty early, thanks to our 3-month-old alarm clock. After heating a washcloth with kettle-warmed water (just like my mom) and making sure John had the coffee started, I opened the door to Betty and paused to take in the beautiful desert view. That first glimpse of morning at camp is something that never gets old!
The day was pretty mellow. Our friends explained that their key to success with camping with Lily was to set expectations low. Any extra achievement or activity during the day was a bonus! That seemed like great advice for camping (and life with an infant in general). So we set up a tent for shade, enjoyed easy meals, took naps, chatted, and changed diapers when necessary. Camping is supposed to be relaxing, right?
People took turns biking or hiking and watching the little ones. A menacing storm rolled all around, but thankfully didn’t hit us. Happy hour in the sunshine included some target shooting with an air gun. (Motherhood has me thrown- I missed every shot!) We grilled burgers and corn for dinner, chilled around the fire, and had the same success with Oden’s bedtime and sleep as the first night.
The next morning, the sun went to work early. The same trading of baby time and recreating took place. I took a short stroll with my little adventurer and Cholula. By the time John got back from a ride, Oden was kind of fussy from the heat. Both families were feeling like perhaps 2 nights of camping with babies was enough for this trip, so while Oden napped, we leisurely packed up the truck and trailer to head home.
As we drove toward Park City, John and I realized how tired we were. Our weekend was a lot of work, and our tension level was probably higher than usual because it was Oden’s first time a new environment. But we had so much fun and spent time with good friends doing something we truly love to do. Sure, there were meltdowns and tummy aches and I bonked Oden’s head on Betty’s ceiling (sigh). The trailer was tight, probably too tight, but we made it work and I’m so glad that we did! It was a milestone weekend for our family, and hopefully just the beginning of a lifetime of loving the outdoors for Oden. His first camping adventure was a success. I know that he won’t remember, but we won’t forget.