i took a toddler camping so you don’t have to

Ah, summer in Canada. Long hot days full of family, friends, cottages and camping. It’s easily the best time of the year.

It is until you decide to one day pack your car to the tits and drive three hours deep into the brush to share a single tent with a fussy toddler for two nights.

Probably this wasn't safe.

Probably this wasn’t safe.

I’ve had the equivalent of about eight hours of sleep in the last two days and my current state of mind is whatever the complete polar opposite of calm and relaxed is. I’m supposed to be on “vacation”, but I’m slowly quickly learning that the word vacation no longer exists in this majestic, mystical parenting realm, where good intentions never seem to pan out and sleep goes to die.

There are no days off when you’re a parent, even on vacation. And if you think camping is an exception, you’ll be coming away with more regret than the time I drank a comically-oversized tube of rum and then went on the upside down roller coaster on the Las Vegas strip.

Mistakes were made that day.

Mistakes were made.

I don’t know what we were expecting. Glorious, relaxing sunsets and snuggles in the wilderness?* No parent is that naive. But we both enjoy camping and thought that perhaps along with his unfortunate pointy ears, this too could be passed down to our son.

Were one or two moments of relaxation peppered with fond memories of chasing a busy little boy as he explored the outdoors too much to ask for?

Of course they were.

It went downhill from here pretty quickly.

It went downhill from here pretty quickly.

We had only been there 10 minutes when we realized we had made a huge mistake. At just shy of 20 months old, we are balls deep in the terrible twos. So when Liam was not busy actively ignoring every god damn thing we were saying and dissolving into a full-blown temper tantrum when he couldn’t watch Paw Patrol, he was taking off down a busy dirt road and jamming fistfulls of mud, sand and lake water into his mouth. Other activities he enjoyed included stealing other children’s toys, trespassing, and throwing a four-hour overnight party in his playpen.

So if you’re a parent of a young toddler and are toying with the idea of taking him or her camping for the first time, I suggest you consider the following:

  • Take that idea and launch it into the sun.

In all seriousness, here are three valuable lessons I learned the hard way. Please, do the right thing and share them with as many new parents as you can.

1. Keep your friends close, and your campgrounds closer
If you’ve never taken your child camping and have reservations about their ability to handle non-stop noise, flies, heat and dirt, don’t choose a campground more than an hour away from home. We would have left after one night, but the prospect of driving three hours back home after just getting there the night before was more daunting than knowing we had to get through the day on less than four hours sleep. Another obvious hot tip: try camping for only one night at first. I was overruled on all accounts, so as I write this during hour one of our three hour journey home, I would like to take this opportunity to say I fucking told you so, dear.

2. A 1.5-year-old is too young to take camping
In theory, you can take anyone camping at any age. You can take your diabetic 95 year old great great uncle Horace camping if you like, but that doesn’t mean that you should. In our case, Liam’s almost non-existent attention span and inability to focus and listen coupled with the short list of activities he could realistically participate in made it difficult to entertain him for two solid days (and nights). I would say the youngest children at our campground were at least three or four. That would also explain the looks of confusion and pity. Yes, three or four is when we will try this again, and not a god damn millisecond sooner.

3. A single tent for two parents and a baby: are you high?
Normally, Liam is a fantastic sleeper – in his own quiet, comfortable, dark room. And normally, I am a solid decision maker. So when I agreed that plopping a playpen in between two blow-up mattresses inside a 10 x 10 Coleman tent would be a positive sleeping experience for everyone involved, I began to seriously question my ability to make any type of sound judgment. The minute Liam woke up and saw both of his parents curled up in the fetal position praying for sweet sweet death, sleep time ended and party time began. The next family camping fiasco (should this trip not end in legal separation), will feature compartmentalized tents, trailers, or me getting a room at the Hilton two towns over.

Okay, so it wasn’t all bad – just 95% of it was. The weather was gorgeous, the water was warm, and we even managed to have a few adult beverages over the fire. We still made memories (albeit mostly miserable ones), and most importantly, we learned some valuable lessons that will hopefully make the next family camping trip (in the very, very distant future) a little more enjoyable.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be spending the next 15 minutes – and the majority of what remains of my vacation – quietly sobbing in the shower.

No calls.

What the hell did you bring me here for?

What the hell did you bring me here for?

*Hilarious quote credit: Jennifer Stewart