Camping 101

A couple of weeks ago, we ventured out camping with the kids. This might sound like a horribly bad thing to say as a mother, but I hate camping with the kids. In fact, I had never ever camped with the kids before, but I knew I would hate it even before I set foot on the campground.

In California, we did not camp. I suspected that the second my back was turned, both Ethan and Kaiya would run off and get eaten by bears or chomped on by a rattlesnake, or both, possibly. Both of these kids are prone to not-listening-itis, and to wandering.

In Hawaii, there are no snakes or bears, so what was my excuse? It was April so it was not too hot yet. The beach did not have mosquitoes.

I know I’m supposed to like it. I’m supposed to like getting the kids back to nature, peeing outside, taking cold-water showers, getting sand stuck everywhere. But to me, it’s a long time to be stuck in a small box with three kids. And you know what? I already spend a lot of time with the kids. I work from home. We live in a small townhouse. They are pretty much always within arm’s reach of wherever I am, unless they’re at school.

This is how I see the trip:

  • Find campsite & make reservations.
  • Plan menu.
  • Buy all food.
  • Pack all food.
  • Make extensive lists of food to bring.
  • Make lists of everything else to bring.
  • Worry.
  • Forget things and bemoan this extensively.
  • Worry some more.

But this is the trip to the kids:

  • Get in the car.
  • Watch a movie.
  • Eat snacks provided by mom.
  • Get sunblocked.
  • Swim.
  • Eat food.
  • Eat s’mores.
  • Play.
  • Sleep.

Which is pretty much how it is for my husband, except he moves things around at my behest.

In Hawaii, theoretically you can camp anywhere, unofficially. Even though the state just instituted a no-tent policy crackdown, if you go to Waimanalo there are still quite a few tent cities set up, laundry lines and all. Some people seem to do this on the weekends only, while others have no other place to go.

But we weren’t unofficial tent-camping. We went to a real-live campground where you have to pay. Because I have not been camping in approximately a hundred years, I was doubtful of my ability to survive a real campground where you sleep under the stars. This place had huts and yurts and duplexes, ranging from around $40 a night to $200 per night, right on the beach. With Wi-Fi! How bad could this be?

It was a good thing, too, because the box marked TENT that my father-in-law and I had looked in, determined there were a tent and sleeping bags, sealed and then shipped it to Hawaii from San Diego, there were now only sleeping bags. Such are the mysteries of trans-Pacific moving.

Anyway, this place was in Laie, a campground that is fenced and closed every night for security. What else is in Laie? BYU Hawaii, the Mormon Temple and the LDS-owned Polynesian Cultural Center. Possibly we could visit the Polynesian Center, but shelling out nearly $200 for the family to look at the cultural villages while we live here did not seem like the best use of our very limited funds. But we had the beach, so what else could we need?

Though we borrowed a huge cooler and packed it with all the contents of our freezer, I remembered halfway up that I forgot the paper plates. Luckily, Laie has not one but TWO grocery stores (possibly even more that I didn’t see), including Tamura’s, whose prices were much much MUCH cheaper than the grocery stores by our house. I mean, it was like being on the Mainland again for a second. It was amazing. All I know is that a bottle of ketchup cost about $1.49 there and it costs more than twice that by our house, so we got a bottle of ketchup, too. And a chair, for $10, which costs $30 at Safeway.

The beach hut was a 10X10 construction made to look like a real Hawaiian hut, which is to say it was made out of plastic straw paper on the roof and was made out of what looked like MDF or plywood painted to look like bamboo. Inside, the roof was pitched and covered in actual straw matting. Also, there was a porch, built on a sandy hill that looked like it was 18 inches from evaporating.

Inside there was a small sleeping area platform and a floor space where Cadillac would spend a horrible hour and a half pumping up the air mattress with a small footpump, only to be foiled by a faulty valve before starting over. Luckily, the kids were outside to spare them the blue streak.

It was right on the beach, which was great. The bad thing was, it was right on the beach, which meant that all the public users kept coming onto our campsite. In particular, a group of kids eating dried Top Ramen threw their trash on the ground right next to our picnic table. I picked it up and asked (sweetly, I thought) if they would please throw it away. They nodded, waited until we left, and threw the trash back. Then one of the boys peed onto the hut next to ours.

Then the kids got into their suits and played in the water for about an hour. I read Mia King’s book, Good Things, which has a ton of recipes and food because it’s about a TV chef/Martha Stewart type of lady, which then made me really hungry, and which, did I mention, was personally inscribed to me? So then, I had to have some cookies. It was vacation.

Then the kids were done.

“You’re done?” I said. I looked at the time. 2 o’clock. We’d been there a total of one and a half hours. Yay! Only 46 more to go. “You’re done? There’s nothing else to do.”

“We’re done,” said the kids, demanding showers. They proceeded to hang out in the hot and dark hut. They also looked at some chickens, including chicks that were running around eating all the junk food people left behind. Nothing else to do.

“Do you wanna go home?” asked Cadillac. “I can tell this is driving you insane.” He did not seem disappointed, or mad, or anything other than sympathetic. Of course, sand does not bother him, nor heat.

Here’s the real reason why my husband would be a great stay-home dad: nothing bothers him. The kids are yelling in his ear, there is ash in his face, he’s covered in dirt and muck and he does not mind one bit. One bit. In fact, he doesn’t even notice. So what if someone gets in a rip current? Why, he’ll just swim out and retrieve them. Not a big deal. He should have gone camping alone with the kids, I thought. The odds were pretty good he’d come back with all three.

“No,” I said, although I did desperately instantly regret my decision to stay, as the hours stretched and yawned out before me and the sounds of Ethan and Kaiya having a deathmatch over the sleeping platform space came out. “We’ll stay.”

So we stayed. No ghost stories, but we did burn some hamburgers, roast marshmallows and make s’mores on the campfire, during which I had to tell Ethan and Kaiya approximately 2,500 times to NOT RUN by the fire and to stay a safe distance away until I thought I would perish from the constant vigilance.

That’s the real reason why I couldn’t relax. You’re a mom, you have to make sure people are adequately sunblocked, no jelly fish are about, no random beachgoers are throwing sharp objects onto your campsite, no one bothers your kids on the way to the toilet, that your kids are hydrated, that no one is falling into fires or getting swept out to sea. It’s impossible to sit on the beach and stare at the waves and forget, well, anything. Except this: I realized what I really needed was a vacation. Not camping with kids. A vacation. Maybe even all alone.

All through the night, Kaiya woke up and yelled randomly. “It’s dark! I don’t like it!” and Elyse and I soothed her. The boys did not stir. At dawn, roosters crowed, the kids ran outside and Elyse threw open the door. “Look at this dawn!” she yelled. “Just look at it.”

“I looked,” I said, mentally checking off Watching Sunrise in Hawaii from my mental Hawaiian bucket list and closing my eyes. I’d taken a Lunesta sleeping pill at 9, and I still hadn’t been able to get to sleep until around 2. “’Sgreat.”

By 8, we were packed and out of there. We stopped at McDonald’s in Laie, which incidentally is huge and looks like it used to be a Swiss Chalet lodge or something. It has a huge rock waterfall and they charge you 50 cents for a glass of water, even if you just spend $25 on breakfast and the McMuffin is only $1 anyway.

We all took a long and deep nap when we got home and that was the best part of the weekend. And despite the yelling, the fighting, the Uh-oh-Mom-lost-it-and-is-taking-off-down-the-beach-let’s-go-get-her moments, all the kids remember is: We went camping. We played with real fire. We had s’mores. It was the best trip ever.

Published by Margaret Dilloway

Middle grade and women's fiction novelist. FIVE THINGS ABOUT AVA ANDREWS, (Balzer + Bray 2020); SUMMER OF A THOUSAND PIES. MOMOTARO: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Disney Hyperion); TALE OF THE WARRIOR GEISHA and SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, out now from Putnam Books. HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE was a finalist for the John Gardner fiction award. THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS is the 2013 Literary Tastes Best Women's Fiction Pick for the American Library Association. Mother of three children, wife to one, slave to a cat, and caretaker of the best overgrown teddy bear on Earth, Gatsby the Goldendoodle.

3 thoughts on “Camping 101

  1. Hey Margaret: I feel your pain. We used to take our kids camping here in San Diego (mostly at Burnt Rancheria and Palomar Mountain) when they were little. And it was the same kind of experience that you describe; in fact, my husband, Dan, and I swore we’d never sleep on the ground in a tent again the last time we went (which was about five years ago).

    But you know what? The kids are 16 and 17 now, and other than our trips to Hawaii every spring break, guess what I miss the most about raising them? Yep, those hot, dirty, exhausting, I-don’t-want-to-ever-sleep-in-a-tent-again camping trips.
    Believe it or not, you’ll come to treasure these memories some day, trust me — even if they’re Lunesta-infused!

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