Because we haven't suffered enough this summer, my husband and I took our nine kids camping this week. Last time I went camping, I was single, fit, and owned sneakers. Last time my husband went camping, he meant that he had to use his second favorite blanket until his favorite blanket came out of the wash.
So, we are not really the outdoorsy type. But this was our summer for just going ahead and doing things, whether they made sense or not. So there we were, camping. This is what we learned:
1. Somebody is going to get horribly sick. May I recommend that it be an adult who gets sick? Because even an adult who is in serious pain and is delirious with fever is going to do her darndest not to wake up everybody else, and you know a kid would never be that considerate. It helps if the second adult present is a prince among men who will stay up late chatting with the teenagers around the campfire, endure a mostly sleepless night filled with the quiet moaning and thrashing around by his wife, who is dying; and then gets up, makes breakfast, and takes all the kids on a hike while his wife takes a nap.
2. Somebody is going to start the day by getting burned. Open fire, eleven people, urbanized adults trying to start a fire before they've had their coffee -- this recipe appears on page two of How To Get Severely Burned In an Entirely Avoidable Way. It's also possible that kids don't necessarily need popcorn for breakfast; and that, just because the popcorn pan has a handle on it, that doesn't mean you can just reach right in there and grab that handle, which, upon closer inspection, is a nice glowy shade of red. But maybe you haven't had your coffee yet.
3. Even if you know it invalidates any outdoorsy credentials you might otherwise be gathering . . . even if you have to bring a gas-powered generator to run it . . . even if you have to toss out one of the children in order to make room for it . . . bring a coffee maker. Yes, that's right, a plug-in coffee maker, which you can operate by pushing a button, and which makes actual coffee. Because starting the day with lukewarm instant coffee with ashes and bugs floating in it? Is not as pleasant as it sounds.
4. The kid who will not, cannot, shall not make it to the bathroom in time when she's watching "Clifford" and the bathroom is twenty feet away, because going to the bathroom is boring, is the same kid who will sweetly ask to be taken to the restrooms down the road every eleven minutes or so, morning, noon, and night, throughout your entire trip. But she will wet her pants on the way home.
5. There is a God. I know this because, stumbling back from a pre-dawn bathroom trip, the skunk that was blocking my path to the door neither got inside, nor sprayed me. He just made me stand there, frozen in terror and indecision, for one of the longest five-minute spells of my life, until, with an unkind sneer, he strutted away.
6. Floors are important. Really, really important. You may not appreciate this fact until you spend enough hours with a crawling baby who apparently constantly has a little voice telling her, "EAT THAT! AND THAT! AND THAT! AND THAT THING THERE, WITH THE FUNGUS AND THE SPIKES AND THE ANTENNAE AND THE LIGHTER FLUID ON IT! YOU MUST EAT THAT NOW, QUICK, WHILE YOUR MOTHER IS BUSY HUNTING EVERYWHERE FOR THE COOKING POT WHICH SHE NEVER ACTUALLY PACKED! EAT EVERYTHING!!!"
7. The great thing about going screen-free for a couple of days is that you're not constantly thinking, "Oh, how lovely it is to be screen free! Look at me, not even wondering what's on Facebook right now! I don't even care how many emails I'm missing!" Nope, you're just . . . doing stuff. Like walking around, gathering wood, trying to spot mushrooms in every color, and laughing at an overly macho caterpillar who rears up on his hindquarters in an effort to intimidate you away from the water pump.
8. We used to be wholesome, tidy, law-abiding folk who tsk-tsked over noisy, stinky, dirty, rambunctious, inconsiderate slobs. In fact, as we packed for the trip, I was terrified that we'd end up setting up camp next to a family like that, and that they'd ruin our nice time. Halfway through our trip, I realized that we are that family. Every time we came back from a hike or a swim, the nice man in the next lot suddenly conceived a burning desire to fold up his lawn chair and go somewhere else. Yep, we've slid way down the scale in the peking order of decency. I can't tell if I'm more horrified or relieved.
9. There will be at least one complainer in the bunch. Not just a grouser or a whiner, but a true hero of the sport, a virtuoso, a tireless, dedicated, unflagging, inexhaustible bellyacher who can adapt any happenstance, no matter how trivial, neutral, or even objectively enjoyable, into a cause for a magnificent symphony of complaining. The only way to deal with this is to sit back and admire the skill and enthusiasm the kid demonstrates in her chosen field. There's nothing you can do about it anyway, so you might as well be supportive, and recognize talent when it turns up. Because, man.
10. It was the best vacation ever. We're totally going next year.