I think I’m turning into the dad from Calvin and Hobbes. Except instead of our adventures “building character” for my kid, they are doing it for me! In our second camping trip, some things went very right compared to last time, but others went very, very wrong.
I tried hard to learn from last time, bringing both lower expectations and a few extra pieces of gear. Unfortunately, I repeated the very first mistake – look up where the campground itself is, not just the national park! As it turned out, the campground was literally two states over from our destination, Harper’s Ferry. As Harper’s Ferry sits on the intersection between West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia, thankfully it worked out to only a 20 minute detour.
My other efforts were more productive. We arrived there earlier, packed the car more efficiently, and set up faster than last time. We even had time the first day to head into town, eat ice cream, and gaze out over the meeting of Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, dotted with colorful inflatable rafts and tubes.
Not everything was quite so cheery though. Only two weeks ago, a fire ripped through several of the town’s historical wood and stone buildings. (Check out their GoFundMe page if you want to help.) A whole chunk of the block was black, charred and disintegrating, right in the middle of their tourist season. Rather than ignore it, we explained to Sprout both what happened and how people were helping each other recover. In particular, we connected it with the theme of LeVar Burton’s book The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, which has the theme of how friends can help each other heal after traumatic situations. While I don’t think he really understood the magnitude of what happened, it was good practice for future conversations like this.
Other parts of the trip also reminded me of both the value as well as the challenges of neighbors. Camping creates an easy intimacy, with everyone sharing the twisted perspective that it’s a really awesome idea to sleep on the ground protected only by a little fabric.
This camaraderie was doubly-intense in this particular campground, which didn’t have assigned campsites, only a shared space under a grove of trees with a scattering of picnic tables and fire pits. Sprout was an immediate point of connection, with fellow campers commenting on his cuteness and encouraging him to pet their dogs. A kayaking instructor putting boats into the river even chimed into my conversation with Sprout, saying that he started bringing his son with him in the boat when he was only 6 months old. But despite his encouragement, we were content with watching dogs fetching balls, wading in up to our knees, examining clam and snail shells, and spotting tiny fish darting about.
But not all of our interactions were quite so pleasant. It started with our neighbors on one side blasting Southern rock deep into the night, with a call out about every 15 minutes to “Turn it up!” I didn’t bother getting Sprout to bed until quiet hours were supposed to start at 10 pm. All the white noise in the world wasn’t going to drown that out.
At 10 pm, I held out hope when it paused momentarily, then lost it again when it started back up a few minutes later. When those people finally went to bed at 11, our neighbors on the other side picked up the slack with an enthusiastic game of beer pong and multiple rounds of the Happy Birthday song.
Normally, I’d be mildly annoyed but understanding. However, I was sharing a tent with a two-year-old who wanted to join in the fun and knew there was absolutely nothing we could do to stop him. Not long after I put him down and left the tent, Chris commented, “Well, there’s not much he can do but sit in there and play with his toys. At least until he finds the zipper.” Literally seconds after the words left his mouth, we heard a zip and saw a little blond head sticking out. So much for that plan.
I headed in there to lie down with him, to no avail. Chris eventually got bored and joined me, but all we got for our efforts was a toddler climbing on us like it was his own personal bounce house. Across the tent, over Chris’s legs, up his chest, plowing into my head, back to his own sleeping bag and around again. And again and again. It was a toddler rave, complete with uncoordinated movements and the drug of severe sleep deprivation. But I couldn’t blame Sprout for his shenanigans – after all, they were clearly having a good time outside! Unlike last time, when I nearly melted down myself, I just shrugged and laughed. (Even when Sprout imitated my tendency to call out to my husband in whiny frustration – he yelled “Chrisssss!” at the door. Of course, Chris thought it was hysterical.)
Once the party finally calmed down at 12:30, Sprout was still way too wound to calm down voluntarily, so Chris stuck him in the car and drove around until he finally passed out.
Camping should be celebratory – of nature and people – but I do hope it’s not quite that celebratory in the future.