When I married my husband, I knew that I was going to have to overlook one fatal flaw. I'm not talking about something simple like a mole that grows a hair or an underground fight club. It goes far beyond that. My husband loves to go camping.
I was raised in a home where camping was sort of taboo. I had always considered myself a good judge of what things should, or should not be, and if the man of my dreams were to come along and want to take me out into the wilderness, I was sure that it would only be because it's so breathtaking and refreshing. I was quite certain that camping was filled with some sort of clean, natural beauty that my parents just "didn't get". I have seen coffee commercials; I know how this works. Also, I am realistic. I know we could be dealing with wild animals. To that, I would like to say, we have a dog; I can deal with animals. In my mind's eye, I had the whole thing planned out. This is how it would happen.
While my beau would go hunting for dinner, I would carefully weave a blanket out of leaves for a picnic. The cool breeze would brush my hair back, just slightly, making my natural glow as beautiful as if I were in a hair color commercial. This would also somehow make me appear thinner. I would sit quietly in my favorite jeans and a warm wool sweater that I had knit during the weeks before our camping trip in anticipation of this magical moment. We would drink pine needle tea and sleep on a bed of freshly cut lavender. After a long night of snuggling next to the fire and whispering sweetly to one another, we would wake to a sunrise meditation and greet the earth with the birds. It's so romantic, isn't it?
Well, just to save any of you other poor, misguided city folk the trauma of the reality of the moment, let me tell you how it really happens, or at least my experience.
It begins when your in-laws send you a note letting you know they are going camping tonight and, if you would like to join them, you are welcome.
Quickly, you throw lots of non-perishable food into a box and a few things that you had in your refrigerator into a cooler. Then, you pack up everything you think you may need for your first time camping. It's important not to listen to your husband on this. Let me reiterate, don't listen to your husband. He is an annoying know it all. Remember, you have seen the coffee commercial where they camp. Keep your head about you; no need to overpack. You don't want to be that lady. Besides, the woods will provide.
You arrive at your chosen campsite in 90-degree heat. You are surprisingly not surrounded by the quiet shelter of a tree canopy, but instead, several recreational vehicles full of frat boys and families with kids with fruit punch mustaches. On the way to the public bathroom with one of your four kids for the third time in the past hour, you will meet a guy named Larry and he will be a little bit too friendly. He has clearly been wearing the same swim trunks for at least the past three days. The good news is that the doors aren't missing on all the restroom stalls and public showers, just most of them.
You will find the tent construction to be easy enough, which will go down as a score in your book. You have come well equipped with your all-natural bug spray (which doesn't really work) and a cup of water to share between you, your husband, your kids, and your dog. Also, you have assumed that cooking over a campfire can't be that different from a stove, so you have packed food accordingly. Boy, will it be a pleasant surprise to find out that tator tot casserole over the fire actually works.
Remember, your in-laws are just three campsites down. Try not to ask them for help if you feel lost or confused by all of the dirt, sweat, and dirt. Did I say dirt already? This will ensure that your father-in-law sees you clearly for the non-camping mess that you are and takes quiet pity on you, and your mother-in-law takes the time to share, in front of your children, that she is making eggs, bacon, and coffee for breakfast in the morning for the two of them. This is important down the road because you plan to force them to eat a bowl of dry Fiber Floppo's since you really didn't know how to pack.
Good, now you have made it through the first hour ... only 47 more to go.
Fast-forward 15 or so bathroom trips with a potty-training toddler and sweaty kids who don't feel so well, a quick three-hour trip to the nearest grocery and fast food restaurant, and an uncomfortable tick removal process from the pup, and you have gotten to the portion of the evening where you get to drink wine. That's right, you remembered to pack the wine. See, you have got this thing!
Whew. That feels good. Camping isn't so bad after all. Man, I love you man. This really is just like the coffee commercial.
Thankfully, you purchased water while on your grocery outing. You are going to need it.
Finally, the mosquitoes have announced that bedtime is near. I have learned that they attack you and chase you into your tent when it's time for bed. It's a highly spiritual experience, let me assure you.
There you will sit in the tent with four kids and a dog. Two of the children who are very young will cry for at least an hour. You will learn that sleeping bags are not meant to be used in uncomfortable heat. You will want to pack cotton sheets for next time. (Yeah right, next time.) You will likely strip down to your skivvies and sleep with the windows unzipped while gasping for an ounce of cool air throughout the night. You will not suffer from modesty issues; it's really hot. Then again, it may be the wine. The frat boys at the campsite next to you keep streaking anyway. Also, it isn't likely that any romantic cuddling will take place due to your resentment toward your husband for not telling you what you really needed to pack, not to mention the sweltering air.
After a therapeutic night of building character, you will wake feeling kind of damp, and your leg will be stuck to your sleeping bag with dew and sweat. The sun will be glaringly strong as you attempt to recover from the post-traumatic stress of the filthy public restroom first thing in the morning. This is where your meditation journey begins.
Imagine yourself at a high-end hotel. You order room service and a massage. Just when you have hit the peak of relaxation and feel completely rested, you hear a knock at the door. It's the concierge. He hands you a box containing a vintage Dior gown and a pair of Louis Vuitton shoes that fit perfectly. You also find a gorgeous clutch and a diamond necklace. You put them on, and you look amazing.
At this point, you will realize that you have forgotten to put sunscreen on yourself. It does not concern you because you have already slathered the kids with unhealthy doses of it, and they are safe. You also notice that you stink but continue to refuse to use the public shower.
You find a note in the bottom of the box that contained your Dior gown. It reads, "Go to the lobby at 7:00pm, and you will find a car waiting for you." You glance at the clock and notice it is almost time. You slowly run down the hall. There is a slight breeze, and your dress flows behind you as water flows down a beautiful natural stream.
You will notice your child peeing in the trees. You have officially stopped caring.
As you reach the lobby, you are greeted by your love in a tuxedo and he walks you out to a limousine. He explains that you are going to the fanciest party in the city and it is all for you. They are celebrating how amazing and talented you are. You aren't camping at all. You aren't camping at all. You are not camping.
You may realize that you actually are camping. Right around now you will probably start to question if you are having a heat stroke, so you agree to go down to the "swimming hole" with the family so that everyone can cool down.
If you have never swam in a lake, then you are in for a treat. First, sit on the floor of the lake in the shallow end so that you can learn what it is like to have mud in your most delicate areas. You may also get to see what a fish feels like when it rubs up on your legs! If these are not reason enough to just go for it, your good friend Larry with the dirty swim trunks will be there, too. It's like a huge community bath, only with no chlorine and lots of bacteria. On the bright side, you have managed to avoid heat stroke and you have exchanged your own bad smell for the smell of the lake.
Then, after you leave the lake and the children are so tired either from playing or from some sort of pond water infection, (who knows, but it's OK. Remember, you are in your Dior gown and you have stopped caring) you can head back to camp.
"Wait a minute, are the skies darkening?" you may ask yourself.
"Why yes, they are," you will answer.
This is when you may begin to feel uneasy due to your lack of cell service and the realization that it's either time to pack up and drive home or ride out the storm. If you want this trip to be an adventure, you know what you must do. You must huddle in your tent with your family for the entire evening as well as most of the night while the National Weather Service issues a watch for possible tornadic activity. You will stink. You will have a blistering sunburn. You will be angry with your husband for getting you into this mess.
Then, when the sun rises in the morning, it will not be glaring the way it did the previous morning. The air will be fresh. You may even smell a hint of lavender. You won't even mind that your in-laws are eating eggs and bacon. Do you know why? It's over. You get to leave. That's right, it's over. You camped.
I cannot attest to what will happen to you from this point forward since everyone is different. Some people go about life as if nothing happened. Others get caught up in reliving the adventure. Mostly, I just felt peace. Now I understand camping. It isn't at all what I imagined. Nobody handed me a cup of coffee and pointed out the yellow-bellied sapsucker, but the skies were as blue as I had ever remembered them.
It is the bad that makes you appreciate the good. Perhaps in a time of soul searching, I will go camping again. I may even consider it if someone tells me it's the only way to save the planet from a fiery asteroid that is going to crash through our atmosphere. Mostly, I just want to rage against the makers of the double-crossing coffee commercial and yet, I kind of want to send them a thank you note.