Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I Love Not Camping

This is what camping used to be like. Calm. Quiet. Beer drinking. No drowning.

I can't relax in the great outdoors. I can walk comfortably down a dark city street at night, practically dangling my designer purse in front of the criminal element's noses and feel totally normal. But stick me in the woods or by a lake or where ever else you REI gear-heads call heaven and I will only be able to enjoy myself with copious amounts of alcohol and a big bottle of Xanax. It's just not me.
We were not a camping family growing up. There is a family legend involving my parents going camping with my aunt and uncle and they slept in a pop-up trailer. My mom hated every minute of it. That was before we were born so camping never even came up as a possibility for an affordable family vacation.
My only experience with camping as a child was Girl Scout Camp. You slept four to a "yurt" which was like a tent on a platform with no zippers to keep the bugs out. There was no bathroom, there was a latrine. No amount of happy camaraderie Girl Scout "together songs" could make up for the fact that we were being eaten alive by mosquitos in the Pennsylvania woods. No matter how many s'mores we devoured and sang about, you still couldn't mask the fact that the cafeteria workers most likely honed their trade in the Westmoreland County Penitentiary. My pap was once again my savior by picking me up after four days of hell where I didn't eat much besides the smuggled boxes of Froot Loops the Nurse Ratchet lookalike camp counselor (named Lightning. Yes, Lightning) failed to notice on the initial search of my camping gear. Yes, my parents really paid for me to go to a place where I was searched on arrival. I was nine.
But being the good wife I am, I have accompanied T on many a camping adventure in the 15 or so years we've been together. Most of the time, I've actually had a little fun. The ratio of my enjoying camping is directly proportional to how close we've camped to wineries, the beach or both. Once T purchased his beloved camper-van, Mindy, it made the experience even downright comfortable at times, especially after he bought me a port-a-toilet. (Onesies only, no twosies). We took an amazing trip a few years back to California's central coast where we spent my birthday barrel-tasting the best zinfandel I ever had followed by an unbelievably delicious seafood dinner overlooking the ocean. If you get drunk enough, you can't even hear the raccoons ransacking your cooler full of gourmet cheese and you really don't care at that point.
So you can imagine our skittishness once we brought L.E. into this world. Being that I was in the throes of PPD last summer, T was considerate enough to not include camping in our summer plans. It would have greatly gotten in the way of my constant bouts of crying. So we decided to wait until L.E. was sleeping more consistently before we even thought about camping. That was about a month ago.
A good friend's birthday was coming up so her fiance planned a camping weekend for it. We would head to a great campground at Lake Tahoe for Friday night and then continue to Amador wine country for Saturday night. Knowing that camping with L.E. could be dicey, we agreed to just go the Friday night and stay in our own campsite. I invited another close girlfriend along with the hopes that between her and the birthday girl, I would have plenty of baby help.
The trip up was very smooth. T had the air conditioning fixed in Mindy so it wasn't even a hot trip. (The drive back from the central coast still seared in my mind, pun intended. A/C was a priority for this summer). We got the car packed up and were at the campsite in less than an hour. Even our dog P-man had a comfortable trip despite having to give up the back seat to his baby sister. Everyone else had arrived and we had a great time eating snacks and pushing L.E. on her little tricycle. The first sign of trouble came when she did a face-plant out of her new pink camping chair. The same kind of camping chair we've all face-planted out of on more than one occasion, I'm sure. I dusted her off and gave her kisses and some cheese. All better!
She was even happy during her first meal in Mindy!

We walked over to the lake. T found a stick to throw to P-man in the water. I was a bit nervous because he's a pretty old dog and his hips aren't in the best of shape. (He was born with dysplasia, too). T threw the stick into the water and the old boy went for it. He really loves swimming and was paddling his little heart out. I was holding L.E. and she was smiling and laughing at him. He came closer to the shore and then...I have a hard time even describing it. It was as if his feet sank in the thick sand and he couldn't get out. Then he started thrashing in the water like he didn't know what way was up. T jumped into the freezing water and got him out. Poor doggy was in total shock. I could barely breathe; I was holding L.E. so tight she was squirming to get loose. All I could think about was how I watched my dog, my best friend of 11 years, almost drown.
P-man was fine in no time, though. He got some ear scratches and some cheese (miracle cure-all for all of us!) and was happily snoozing by the fire. Our friend who had organized the trip prepared a surprise birthday dinner for all of us and it was delicious. L.E. started doing the sleepy-girl head-bounce while she was eating her dinner so I put her to bed and she didn't even protest a peep. I thought it was a bit too easy.
It was time for birthday cupcakes and as I was carrying them from the van to the campfire, I tripped over a wooden post that was sticking up about 4" out of the ground. Again, someone living my household did a face plant. My margarita flew out of my hands, I smacked my knee and my head simultaneously yet I somehow managed to keep the box of cupcakes upright and perfect. I was in pain but still managed to sing happy birthday. That's when we realized we had an accompanist in the form of a 14-month-old baby girl wailing from across the way.
I figured it was as good of a time as any for me to go to bed. We pulled the backseat flat which made for a comfy queen-size mattress. T would sleep on the other bed "upstairs" where the camper-top popped up. I held my baby girl tight and we both dozed off. Until 1:30 am when the wailing started again. This time, there was nothing to soothe her. We checked her diaper, I wrapped her with another blanket (leaving me with none)...I even went to the other campsite and climbed into the bear box to get her bottle of milk. The one time she calmed down, she rolled away from me and smashed into the side cupboards (too late to realize we were parked on an incline.) Nothing was soothing her. Not Tylenol. Not milk. Not music. Not Orajel. Not begging. Not crying myself. This continued for hours and hours. We debated packing up and going home but everything was so scattered and we would have made even more noise. We really had no choice but to endure her agonizing screams.
I got a brief respite from the crying when I found her hat. Then she and i slept for maybe 1-1/2 hours till 6 am.
She woke up and I begged T to take her for a walk so that I could at least get 20 minutes of sleep. I haven't felt that drained since, well...since just a few short months ago when she would still wake up 90 times a night. I was embarrassed and worried we'd awakened the entire camp. Fortunately I have awesome friends who were either too passed-out to hear her or were being nice in pretending they didn't. I hope they never tell me the truth if the latter is the case.
The morning ended up being OK. We made breakfast burritos for everyone and L.E. showed zero trace of her hellish night except for laryngitis. She sounded like a 90-year-old chain smoker. Yet she laughed a ton and ate all of the blueberries we had and then started begging from our friends. Nobody could resist her, of course. We lounged by the lake for a few hours before we decided to head back home. Of course, she slept the entire way home. We left her to snooze in the van in the driveway for a little while we had some lunch outside by her. We survived our first family camping trip but not without a few war wounds.
It's going to take me a while to recover and consider camping again. I don't think anyone will be inviting us anytime soon, either. I'm sure that the temperature was the culprit. Yes, it's June but the overnight lows at Tahoe are in the 40s. Yes, we have a little heater to use but for whatever reason, T just didn't. It's an argument I'm not ready to bring up yet.
We were supposed to go to a 3-day music festival this weekend but I shot that down. It's my birthday weekend and I really don't want to spend it sleeping in a van with a kid who may or may not scream her head off every night. Plus, there will be a lot of hippies there but that's a whole different story.
That night really rattled me emotionally. I was finally starting to feel like I got this motherhood thing down; like my baby girl is truly happy no matter what we do. With it being such a disaster, I can't help but find myself once again full of self-doubt. I hope my confidence returns quickly because I'm pretty shaken up about it still.
We'll go camping again someday. But in the meantime, I'll stick to being outdoorsy by having cocktails on patios...
Before it all went to hell.

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