Tuesday, July 31, 2018

What Really Happens When We Go Camping

Sometimes (most of the time) I only post our fun, cute, happy stuff on Facebook.

Recently, it was the smiling faces of our five young kids on a family campout. We hiked! We saw wildlife! We had screen-free quality time in nature!

One hiker, passing us on the trail, remarked, "They have their hands way too full." 

My conditioned, catty reply is usually, "AND OUR HEARTS!"

But she was right. We were short on water, short on sleep, short on maps (fewer than one per child), short on trail etiquette -- Move to the right! Your other right! -- short on sneakers that didn't slosh up and down on our hyper-sensitive three-year-old's hyper-sensitive feet, short on mom's hands to hold, and definitely short on happy campers.

But you wouldn't know it from my Facebook posts... So here's a little more to our most recent family camping story.

(Pro Tip: Right before you take a picture of grumpy kids, yell: "Anyone who smiles for the photo gets a granola bar after we take it!" I might have forgotten the hotdogs, but I had boxes and boxes of granola bar bribes.)

Case in point: The bottom photo is before I promised granola bars for smiles.
It was a weekend to celebrate -- last free weekend of summer break, last weekend before Wally's work schedule takes over weekends again, and first weekend after reaching the deductible of our high-deductible health insurance plan despite (both thankfully and inconceivably) having no life-threatening issues to report. (How in the world do healthy people with relatively minor issues spend this many thousands of dollars on healthcare in seven months?) We were feeling both invincible and poor.

So we crammed five kids, two adults, a dog, a crib, and a potty chair into an 8-person tent in July in Texas.

Obviously, no one slept.

Since our neighboring campsite arrived at 11 PM and shined their headlights straight into our tent until their camp was set up, I didn't shush our kids too insistently as they tumbled out of the tent like a clown car at 6 AM, asking about breakfast and complaining they were bored.

Ants found our box of kitchen gear overnight (but thankfully not the cooler). Since I didn't have time to clean out the stove or skillet properly, we fried some extra protein into the eggs. No one complained.

I wanted to hike to the dam, and the synopsis of a book I've downloaded but not yet read says to do things you enjoy with your kids so that you don't hate parenting. So I forced everyone into the dam hike.

Our six-year-old was upset the whole time because he wanted to hike the Alligator Branch Creek. Our three-year-old was upset because he wanted to go home. Our two-year-old was upset because he wanted to hike but can barely walk. Asking him to hold someone's hand is deeply offensive.

Meanwhile, cyclists! Did I mention the hiking trail is also a bike trail? Please allow me a moment to pause and apologize to every cyclist attempting Chinquapin Trail at Huntsville State Park on Saturday, July 28, around 8 AM.

Single file hiking, Bader style.
So the coolest part of the dam hike turned out to be closed (not indicated on the specially-requested ranger's map we carried with highlighted closed trails), so we headed to the Alligator Branch trailhead instead. It's still early o'clock in the morning, and there's a whole wonderful day ahead of us.

The six-year-old who spent the better part of the morning complaining that we weren't on the Alligator Branch trail is now upset that we're on the Alligator Branch trail. He doesn't want to hike it after all.

Our two-year-old is fascinated by the alligator-infested lake. He keeps racing to the water's edge to yell, "WATER!" Since he's too delirious to stay on the trail, he gets dropped into the baby carrier backpack -- with all the kicking and wailing a toddler on no sleep can wield. It's only a few minutes before the rhythmic nods of his head bounce against the back of my neck. He finally passes out asleep.

Sleepless Zombie Child Pauses On His Run For Alligator Lake
At this point, one of the twins seizes into a tantrum because the trail is too narrow to walk three wide, which means I can't hold both of their hands. Wally scoops him up to let faster hikers pass by. (This is when the "hands way too full" lady passes.)

The six- and eight-year-olds are up ahead with the dog, jockeying for lead. The dog strains forward to greet a terrified dachshund in an oncoming group, and I make it to the front in time to grab the leash and apologize to yet another annoyed hiker on behalf of my terribly inconvenient family. Her friend throws arms sideways for crowd control and backs into our (thankfully friendly) dog in an attempt to clear the widest path possible for the royal dachshund. As we wait in the brush beside the trail, I make a mental note to really scrub the kids' legs for poison ivy.

A few feet off the other side of the trail we spot a copperhead in the brush. I'm obsessed and terrified when it comes to venomous snakes. I freak out everyone by shrieking, then pretend to be a professional herpetologist and lecture the kids on snake safety.

Shortly after, we squint into the marshy lake to figure out if we're seeing a log or a gator. It starts to swim away (probably to a quieter part of the swamp), and we all shout in triumph. We've seen an alligator at Alligator Branch!

I promise that any kid with a good attitude for the entire hike back to the trailhead can skip naps (fully intending to let the older kids skip rest time anyway -- not for lack of needing naps, just because the three youngest ones really need sleep, and there's no way five kids in an eight-person tent in the middle of the day are going to rest).

After a delicious quesadilla lunch -- Pro Tip: tortillas travel well for camping -- I took the older kids to the boat rental shack while Wally supervised naptime for the younger three. Being on a lake with healthy-sized gators, I opted for a paddleboat over canoe. It was a slow, relaxing ride across the lake to view the dam we'd missed on the earliest hike of our day. I would have liked to explore more of the marshy sections along the shore, but my legs were on fire, and it was time to head back.

By this time, all the kids were exhausted (toddlers didn't actually nap) and incredibly dirty, so we took them to a pristine visitor center outside the state park to see a giant statue of Sam Houston.

God Bless Texas.
We get back to the campsite and roast leftover quesadillas over the fire for dinner, because the hot dogs are still safely back home in the freezer. I convince the kids how fun it would be to take one more hike across an open field to see the swamp before s'mores, and on our way across the field, I notice the sky. A fierce thunderstorm is approaching.

Wally and I are forced to make the call between waiting out a lightning storm with five kids and a dog in a tent surrounded by pine trees or packing up the entire camp in 20 minutes and going home for microwave s'mores and a good night's sleep.

The microwave s'mores were delicious.

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