A couple of weekends ago, my husband and I took the kids tent camping for the first time. I honestly never thought I would go camping, ever, mainly because I’m terrified of aliens and, to a lesser extent, bears. But I am also not keen on getting dirty, sleeping on the ground or walking to a communal restroom in the pitch-black at 2 in the morning.
Oh, the things we do for our children.
Since it’s fall, I figured the night would be cool, even for Florida where we live. I reasoned that we could sleep with the tent all zipped up and that the antiquated technology of zippers would probably confuse the aliens—like how a sundial would confuse us. We brought air mattresses and heavy-duty flashlights for middle-of-the-night bathroom excursions and also our little dog, who could be offered up as sacrifice in the event of an alien or bear invasion.
We chose a campground right on the river and brought two shiny new fishing poles, our hearts filled to overflowing with great expectations for catching an unquantifiable number of fish. Never mind that my husband’s fishing experience is limited to YouTube videos. He changes the brakes that way, so surely fishing is no different, right?
We arrived at our site and set up camp.
Amazingly, my husband and I managed to set up the tent with—I cannot even believe I am typing this—hardly any arguing. It was even kind of fun. Weird.
And then I turned around and saw this:
I lost it. “What are you doing? Look at your face! You’re filthy! How is it even possible to get that dirty that quickly!?”
Yeah. I hurt my little girl’s feelings because I am a huge jerk and, apparently, have somehow managed to go without touching dirt for approximately 20 years.
In an effort to make amends, I got the camera and started taking pictures of my daughter while talking in my over-the-top cheerful “please don’t cry” voice. I did eventually get her to smile, and I told her I was sorry. After that, I relaxed. I realized if I couldn’t let go of my worries about dirt, no one was going to have any fun, because camping is supposed to be dirty. In fact, if you’re not getting dirty, you’re probably not doing it right.
My husband set to work preparing lures for fishing. While we waited, the kids consumed normally forbidden treats like Sprite and Doritos. We fished. A gross pufferfish ate one of our hooks, and it was a bloody adventure getting it out. We did cartwheels in the park by the river. We cooked hot dogs for dinner in a heavy iron skillet over the fire pit.
We became dirtier and dirtier.
In the evening, when it was time to make s’mores, my husband and I realized we’d somehow managed to leave both sets of skewers at home. We argued for five minutes about whose fault it was until our son suggested we use sticks instead, pointing out in his sweet childish innocence what complete idiots we were being. We ended up laughing at ourselves while hunting for sticks. I found myself thinking about how camping is a metaphor for life: If you can’t accept the mess, it just isn’t any fun.
The s’mores were delicious. We stayed up late into the night giggling over card games like Go Fish and War and then smashed our two air mattresses together and snuggled up in a pile of filthy humans for sleep. And, in spite of having to sleep with all the tent-flaps open because it was unbelievably hot (tents do not “breathe”), to my knowledge, no one was probed by aliens or mauled by a bear that night.
So our first camping trip was a success. We enjoyed it so much, in fact, that we’ve already planned another camping trip for December.
Bring on the dirt.