Camping is great, I am sure most campers will agree that when we dream about an upcoming camping trip we all envision something different – maybe you imagine a beautiful spot under an old tree on the banks of a riverbed, or maybe a site right on the beachfront, or maybe a shady spot next to the fence in the Kruger park.
Maybe you imagine birds and books and serenity.
Or maybe your ideal trip is to relax next to a sparkling swimming pool; or maybe hiking is more your thing.
Whatever your dream image of vacation might be, I suspect all our images of dream camping trips have a common camping goal: relaxing in your own unique way.
We basically daydream about the impossible… at least when you have children.
What we don’t account for is our very own fantastic kids. I mean, we are not monsters, I am sure every parent out there includes the young ones in our daydreaming; they are there with us in our minds, they are laughing and playing with each other and loving every moment.
But for me, my reality is always somewhat different from my dreams.
First of all, most of the time we don’t get those dream camping sites. Usually, the nice, big, shady sites are already occupied by groups of friends who seem to have last been out of quarantine a few years ago, or at least you would think so judging from their loud conversations and abundant jokes.
Being around people every day, you want a bit of peace and quiet, so you have two options: either squeezed in right next to the smelly ablutions because you know your kids are waking up three times every night to go to the loo, or you opt for a site somewhere quiet but mostly in the scorching sun with only a small tree as consolation, miles from the ablutions but at least also miles from any other people.
So congratulations, for the rest of the stay you have a quiet site but you now also have a tent no one can enter the whole day, as it simply gets too hot. Forget that nap your toddler is used to. Or the one you were dreaming about.
Secondly, I find that my dreams never include setting up camp. You never account for getting away an hour or two later than planned, which means you now are trying to find the tent poles in the dark, to just settle in for the night.
Also, the planned sunset braai for dinner hasn’t happened yet, the kids are hungry and arguing (and obviously not bothering to help with anything).
My temper is probably also short after the bad day in the office and setting up a campsite in the dark is definitely not my favorite thing in the world.
It is usually here where my kids start remembering things they haven’t packed and can’t seem to live without, even for a second.
After you have finally have managed to set up camp and feed the kids, you have to walk miles to the ablution while carrying loads of stuff (in my case three towels, three toiletry bags, three sets of clean clothes).
The ablutions seldom cater for mothers with small children, so now I find myself with thee kids in a tiny shower cubicle with a too-small bench, trying to help them shower one by one and still keep the rest of us dry, with a wet, gross, shower curtain sticking to my every move.
Is it just me or are those wet curtains in public showers disgusting? Plus, it can’t seem to do its only job of preventing the rest of the cubicle to get wet.
Then we walk back… only now I am obviously also carrying a kid (and all the stuff from before) while holding two other girls’ hands. This while dirty clothes keep falling down behind me like I am leaving a deliberate trail like Hansel and Gretel. Except this story is beginning to feel like a nightmare.
Usually when I get back to the campsite I regret our camping weekend a little, because just as I sit down in my camp chair around the fire, one of my kids has to go to the toilet again. It is dark, it’s far, the kids are small… so back you go (although begrudgingly).
Of course, 10 minutes after I return, I find myself again walking the dreaded path to the toilets with one of the others, because they obviously didn’t have to go 10 minutes earlier, even if you asked.
You get the idea.
It might seem like I have ten kids, I admit I only have three, but when all of them were small, it seemed like ten.
After brushing teeth, I usually spend the rest of evening sitting with kids in the humid tent as they are suddenly afraid of the dark, and on the first night in the camp they usually refuse to sleep if I don’t tell them a story, and another. And obviously another.
The next morning you are still trying to sleep in when the kids are up and whispering in your ear that they have to go to bathroom immediately. One look in their desperate eyes and you realize you will have to walk the long road to the ablution in your pajamas and with bed hair if you don’t want a bigger problem at hand!
Only in the bright of day you will recognize how many of your camping neighbours you actually know from back home, as you will see your childrens’ school teacher, your dentist, and that colleague you have been avoiding for a few weeks.
This morning in your pajamas you will encounter them all.
It is only later during the sizzle of brunch in the pan that you suddenly start to get that familiar exciting feeling of camping. Your troubles start lifting from your shoulders, and you realize you haven’t once this morning needed to tell the kids to leave their screens to do something else. They are playing with plastic animals in the sand and during the morning you notice with pride their initiative of building creative animal shelters with rocks and sticks.
It is then that I start enjoying camping again.
That lovely afternoon when your family all play a game of mini-golf, or you finally get your sunset braai with a lamb choppy and braaibroodjie with a glass of wine.
Camping is when the kids remember to be kids again and adults remember what is important in life.
That is what I enjoy about camping.
It is all about priorities in life. And my priority is and will remain camping.
Even with small kids. Especially with small kids, to remind me what life is all about in the first place: To enjoy the little things in everyday moments.