“When did we ever lock our tent?” said my husband as we unrolled our sleeping bags on the sturdy pine bed.
True, I thought, but our tent didn’t have a door with a latch and the yurt we’d rented at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park did.
“Doors should be locked,” my city-girl brain reasoned, but I nodded.
We had returned alone to this campground after 14 years absence. The last time, our daughters were with us, then 6, 9 and 12 years old. That outing ended at dinner time in rain with a sputtering campfire and stone-cold, tinfoil wrapped potatoes.
The children huddled in their tent while I shoved more newspaper and kindling into the flameless fire pit, blowing hard to revive embers. I gave up and instead stormed around spewing verbal misery.
“Why on earth do we trek into the woods and make cooking a struggle? I don’t even LIKE potatoes.” Wisely, my husband did not reply. The children zipped the flap of their tent closed.
My vision of a happy family, like all those around us cooperatively building fires, chopping vegetables on picnic tables under tarps strategically strung tree to tree protecting them from the persistent drizzle, went up in fireless smoke. Why didn’t we think of bringing a tarp?
“We’re leaving. Now! I refuse to cook dinner in the rain.”
The children, quiet throughout my rampage, perked up when we pulled into the McDonald’s in nearby Perth. McDonald’s delivered what I couldn’t – a Happy Meal for all.
I gave myself a “D” in camping, a “D” in mothering and an “Unsatisfactory” in attitude with no chance of remediation.
Then the “A” I had earned for resolute refusal to ever camp again was erased when I learned Murphy’s Point rented cabins and yurts and provided gas barbecues for cooking. Maybe I could try once more? But would my husband be willing to risk a rampage? And was this yearning to camp merely the peachy glow of nostalgia? In the intervening years, I’d become an enthusiastic kayaker, a happy hiker, a born-again birdwatcher – but never a camper. I questioned why, suddenly, after 14 years I wanted to camp.
All five of us are together again. One daughter returned home to finish her final year of studies after 12 months of out-of-town co-op work. Another boomeranged after wrapping up a master’s thesis in southern Ontario and is figuring out her next step in life. The third and youngest had enjoyed a year of being an only child. My husband and I had relished our new freedom to explore our lives and our 40 year marriage with minimal child-care responsibilities. But now, once again, we are five adults in a tiny townhouse.
People say “Oh, you must be happy to have everyone home.” Well. Yes, kind of. Um, not really.
(Now, dear reader re-read the above lines. Do you see the grout of parenting guilt between the words?)
I craved solitude. I ached for space. I didn’t know I would experience camping redemption.
My husband and I stood together on the yurt’s wood deck. Wind grazed through the pines and rattled dry autumn leaves. A loon ululated.
Memories blew in with the first whiff of wood smoke. I remembered the whine of children and mosquitoes. I remembered feeling helpless when a marshmallow on a stick blackened and turned into a tikki-torch and the child holding the stick howled in frustration, eating it anyway and burning her tongue. I remembered the horror of the child princess who hates the smell of pee and who cried in agony when she realized the outhouse was the ONLY option.
When the rain came the next day – Murphy’s Law at Murphy’s Point – my husband said “Let’s not bother with a fire. We can enjoy everyone else’s.” I swooned.
We sipped wine inside the yurt, breathing second-hand campfire smoke, and listened to families around us making supper. Pots rattled. Dogs barked. An axe thunked and split wood. A mother scolded. “Stop fighting. There’s plenty of Kraft Dinner for everyone.”
Dry inside, we ate our barbecued steak and crunched our salad. Later, when the rain stopped and the sky cleared, we walked to the outhouse in the dark, finding our way by smell. We stopped in a clearing and gaped at the stars and, for a moment, I wished our daughters’ were with us.