Ode to Camping with a Toddler

I’m sitting on a little slice of heaven. A campfire warms my feet. A delicious dinner rests in my belly. The sun dips below the horizon. The calm waters of Sequim Bay grace my eyes. I settle into my camp chair, pen in hand, journal open, page blank. This hour, this evening should be something special. It has all the makings of an extremely relaxing, joyful evening. Comparable to a soul-enriching conversation with friends. Or a margarita on the beach.

But it’s not.

At this same moment, my toddler is fussing and throwing another tantrum. My husband puts him into the Ergo carrier. My husband and I have both decided to spend some time reading and journaling this evening. I’ve already started.  My husband is doing what great dads and husbands do. He is tending to our son and giving me a few moments to breathe, to take in the promised serenity of our weekend of camping.

Camping. With a toddler.

Our son is calm now. My husband is walking around with him still strapped in, entertaining him by narrating various happenings around our campsite. My husband is trying to write in his own journal, but tiny hands keep stealing the pen away. It’s a lost cause. He starts reading aloud, instead. The reading is punctuated by occasional bursts of energy from the toddler. He grabs his dad’s face, mouth, ears, nose. He is learning body parts and wants to show off for us.

They move on to play with the straps securing the kayaks to our vehicle, parked nearby.  The straps are springy and they bounce when pulled, providing some amusement. Any amusement. Because we’re camping with a toddler, and anything goes. But the current entertainment isn’t cutting it. So the boys are going for a short walk around the campground. My husband hopes our son will fall asleep in the carrier.

Because it’s past his normal bedtime. Because, at home, he would be fast asleep in his crib by now. Because it’s still light out, and it’s too early for all of us to go to bed. Because, we’re camping. And, everything is different.

Camping. With a toddler.

It’s pointless to compare now to similar scenes from the years past. Same adults, no toddler, different places. Those relaxing evenings in front of a campfire. Reading, talking, journaling, leisurely sipping wine. Either just the two of us alone, or in the company of friends. Peaceful moments, hours, days that quietly replenished the soul. It’s pointless to long for those evenings. Because this is the season we’re in. This is the season we’ve chosen.

Camping. With a toddler.

He’s got his own sleeping bag now. He’s got his own life vest, and sits in the kayak like a big boy. Now he wants to take in the open waters in front of him, when it was just seconds ago (I swear) he was an immobile infant strapped to my chest, completely oblivious to floating away with us. He’s got his own camp chair, but he won’t sit in it. Now he’d much rather have you chase him through the campground. He’s stubborn, and determined. He is his own person.

It’s pointless to wish time would fly by, and leave these years in the dust. Because it will. No matter what we say or do. Because this season will soon just be a memory. And then, we’ll look back and wonder what the hell our problem was. Because things were so much simpler back then, when they were so little. So full of curiosity. Growing. Learning. Needing us. Needing to be held. Or not needing us. Being their own person.

But this is the season we’re in.

Is there still joy between the tantrums, the mischief, dumping the sippy cup (the only one we brought) straight into the ashes of the firepit, the frustration, and the self-doubt: Why on Earth am I doing this?

Yes, there are moments of joy here. In this season. Yes, even while camping with a toddler. Because it’s just camping with a toddler. Not anything earth-shattering. Not anything devastating. But, everything pure and precious. Like watching my toddler run up and down the beach, picking up driftwood and throwing rocks into ocean. Like watching him curl his mouth into an O, to make the “fishy face” he has made since birth, as if to say he’s just observed the most wondrous thing ever. Like watching him find a stick, throw it away, then retrace five steps to go find it again because that was the best stick. Like watching him dive in to eat the mango, hair first, which makes me decide that mangoes were a terrible idea to bring on a camping trip (what was I thinking).

Yes, these are precious, fleeting moments. And we will find joy in them.

3 thoughts on “Ode to Camping with a Toddler”

    1. Thanks 🙂 Our first reaction to the sippy cup being tossed into the firepit was “yep, saw that coming.” Thank God it was all dry and cold. Being able to laugh at some of this stuff helped make the trip worth it.

      1. Oh man, I was envisioning a melting sippy cup. This would all be Curtis if we camped too. Except probably add a lot of screaming… Both for the sake of making noise and having “fun” and to protest everything we want him to do.

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