Friday night the girls and I left OCH headquarters, my car packed to nearly overflowing and the girls nearly hysterical with excitement, for Comlara Park in picturesque Hudson, Illinois. My parents were spending Labor Day weekend camping and had invited all of us down for a couple of days of fun and family togetherness. What ensued was a weekend I'm sure none of us will soon forget.
First of all, for those of you not familiar with camping, let me explain in picture format what all goes into packing yourself and two young children for two days and two nights of camping:
While this may not look like much, please keep in mind that I was not required to bring any food as those necessities were all supplied by Gramma & Papa Poke as were all towels and washcloths. Also not pictured: alcohol. It happens to be banned in this particular campground which is a crime in and of itself because really, what goes better with a campfire than a nice, ice cold adult beverage at the end of a long day? Nothing, I tell you, and that's why I threw caution to the wind and brought three packs of Bartles & James wine coolers anyway. Camp regulations, be damned!
Because I worked until 3 pm and Shortcake had her state required eye doctor appointment for kindergarten at 3:30 pm, it was dinner time before we arrived. With daylight fading fast, I thought I should probably get our tent set up before we ate for fear of having to assemble it in the dark. Here's what I learned very quickly as I started blowing up our queen sized air mattress: We're gonna need a bigger tent.
We had maybe a foot of clearance on two sides of the mattress and there was no way I could stand up straight even at the highest point of the tent. It was cozy, I'll tell you that much.
Friday night went off without a hitch, minus Shortcake's bedtime emotional breakdown because she was missing her daddy. It was an early bedtime for me because although she wanted to sleep in the tent she wouldn't stay in there without crying unless I was in there too. Despite being asleep before 10 pm, it was still an early morning when Shortcake woke up ready to rock 'n roll at 6 am. Enter Junie B. Jones audio books and preinstalled iPod maze games which bought me almost an extra hour of rest.
Technology, I love you. Also, who wakes up with hair looking this good?
A little after 7 am we exited from our little tent cave and went into the camper to find Papa Poke and Punkin both of whom were still comfy & cozy and deep in slumber. Of course, as soon as Punkin knew someone else was up she was ready to rock n' roll herself. Honestly, I've never seen anyone go from zero to sixty like she can. Phrases like "What's for breakfast?" and "Hey! Where's the coffee?!?" were shouted within moments of her waking up, always a clear indication that you may be in for a long day.
When we're camping, the girls have a difficult time entertaining themselves. Normally at home this is not an issue probably because everything is familiar and boring. At the campground they are raring to go at every opportunity and have a hard time just "being" while the adults on site take a few moments to get things done. Again, this can translate into a very long day for all adults on hand. Early Saturday morning, after breakfast and cartoons, my dad and I took the girls to one of the playgrounds on site. The novelty of that started to wear off rather quickly so we offered a trip on paddle boats as an attempt to keep them occupied for thirty minutes time.
Let me take this moment to share with you something I learned about myself this weekend: I tend to reflect on memories from my childhood with a romanticized version of what was actual reality. I suppose this is a good thing meaning that I had a pretty awesome life growing up (which of course I did). Paddle boats are just about at the top of the list of things I remember being way more awesome as a kid than they are as an adult. Operation Less Jiggly team members? Please rest assured knowing I got my workout in on Saturday. Shortcake seemed to enjoy steering the boat (her legs were not long enough to paddle herself which was unfortunate for her Papa and me who could have used the extra leg power), and Punkin enjoyed commandeering from her perch in the back by telling us that we weren't going fast enough. Also learned on this adventure: nearly falling into the lake while trying to get your five year old on the dock from the very unstable, unsecured front deck of a paddle boat while also making sure your three year old and fifty-something year old father - both non swimmers, mind you - remain securely on board is probably a lot funnier viewing from shore than it is when you're the one experiencing it. It was a Three Stooges worthy performance out there, trust me. I have the scraped elbow to prove it.
Following our paddle boat adventure, we traveled back to the campsite. It was maybe ten minutes before the girls were asking "What are we doing next?". Enter the hiking trail. It was a beautifully scenic trail with a wide grassy, tree lined path. There was a cool breeze keeping us from overheating and gentle slopes and short bridges here and there to keep the walk interesting. It was definitely a stark difference between my last hike through the woods, and this time not one of us were cursing or sweating profusely by the end which is always a plus.
Around the time we were eating lunch my mom returned to the campground following her morning at work. Punkin was put down for a nap, my mom took Shortcake for her own adventures around the park, my dad did some work on his computer, and I read/napped in the hammock. A highlight of my weekend, that's for sure.
The General arrived on the premises around 4 pm. Somehow I had convinced him to join us for a night at the campground, and if any of you are not familiar with The General's view of camping let me sum it up for you in his own words: "I do not work forty hours a week to pretend like I'm homeless on the weekends". See? A minor miracle that he agreed to spend a night in the woods and one for which I am very grateful.
Shortly after The General's arrival things started to go from "frantic but fun" to "I wonder what else can go wrong". While my dad started the fire for steaks and my mom began dinner prep inside the camper, the girls wanted to take The General for a walk on their trail. By the time we arrived the fire had been abandoned, my mom was standing outside, and all I could see were Dad's legs hanging out of the camper door. Apparently a fuse had blown rendering all electricity inside the camper - including the pump for the water, lights, and all kitchen appliances - inoperable. Not having spare fuses on hand, The General was sent to the nearest town to fetch the necessary supplies.
Assuming that by the time he got back we'd be able to eat, my dad continued to prep the fire for our dinner of steaks and french fries. I had the girls with me in the tent reading a couple of chapters of Judy Moody in an attempt to give them some rest time and to keep them out of the way. It was from our tent window that we had the perfect spot for viewing my dad nearly setting himself ablaze with the Great Grease Fire of 2009. As he threw the fries into the vat of hot oil, the overflow of grease caused the flames to shoot up to epic heights. Unfortunately the steaks were also cooking over the fire at this point and in an effort to save them they were sent flying off the grill and onto the ground. My mom came running from the camper asking, "What can I do? WHAT CAN I DO?!?" as the girls and I watched in horror/fascination at the circus act in front of us. The steaks were washed off, the fire brought back under control, and shortly thereafter The General arrived and installed the fuses to make life happy again.
Fast forward to post-dinner festivities. The girls have been put to bed inside the camper and the four adults are sitting around the campfire now able to enjoy conversation without constant interruption. Cue: the rain. At first it started as a very light sprinkle here and there, really nothing to get worked up about. It wasn't long though before we realized this rain wasn't going anywhere. We retreated to the canopy under the tent where The General and I thoroughly embarrassed my parents in a Euchre butt kicking for the ages. Around 10:30 the skies opened up, the temperature dropped, and the wind picked up enough to prevent us from staying outside any longer. The General and I made a mad dash for the tent - our sleeping quarters for the night - and we settled in.
It rained. All. Night.
Around 6 am we started to feel rain drops inside the tent. Nothing substantial, just enough to annoy us and worry me that we were going to get soaked inside the confines of our nylon sanctuary and that The General may never forgive me for subjected him to such acts of torture. Neither of us slept well until about 6:30 am when the rain finally subsided (for a couple of hours), and at 8:30 am I finally emerged at the sounds of Punkin yelling about something. My mom was taking the girls for a walk which, as my mom told me, would give me time to get ready by myself. Before they left though she spoke the words that strikes fear in every mother:
"We had a couple of little accidents this morning".
At 3 am my parents were woken up by a crying Punkin who had peed her pants in bed. Then, hours later just after drinking some orange juice, Punkin puked on the table and bench cushion.
So, apparently sleeping in the tent wasn't such a bad idea after all.
The girls got back from their walk with Gramma and then we sat down to a breakfast of french toast and bacon. Punkin still wasn't acting like herself, looking and acting lethargic and she felt like she was running a slight fever. She ate her breakfast but cuddled up with me when she was finished in a very non-Punkin like fashion. My dad returned from church and moments after he sat down to eat his cereal Punkin gagged violently then puked all over the floor of the camper. I swear, it was a like a slow motion scene from a horror movie. My mom had her arms around Punkin, a piece of projectile barf landed on Dad's pants, from the corner of my eye I saw Shortcake's body lurch in the unmistakable fashion of the sympathy gag, I ordered Dad to take Shortcake out knowing that - if she's anything like her mother - the sympathy gag will very quickly morph into the sympathy puke, and I knelt next to my vomiting child with a rag in hand having no idea what to do.
The scene was pure comedy I'm sure.
My mom thinks that Punkin's throwing up was probably related to congestion. She thinks that Punkin's just so stuffed up that as it drains it makes her sick as evidenced by the large amount of mucus in her puke (you're welcome for the visual!). How does my mom know this? Because my brother used to do the same exact thing. What? What's that? Punkin and my brother having similar traits? You don't say!
So now the couch cushion is pee stained. One of the bench cushions has been puked on as has the floor and all of Punkin's clothing. The smell of puke is thick in the air. I'm trying very hard not to throw up myself. Shortcake and her papa are watching the whole awful scene from outside the camper. My mom is telling me that we can salvage Punkin's clothes and I'm telling her "No really. Just throw them away. She was outgrowing them anyway. Please don't make me take them home". And The General is sleeping in a dripping tent blissfully unaware of the chaos happening ten yards away.
Doesn't camping sound like the most fun ever?!?
We hadn't planned on staying long on Sunday, but the turn of events certainly made our retreat hastier than anticipated. We were packed up and on the road home by 12:15 (with Punkin draped in a towel and garbage bag at the ready just in case). I'm not sure if my parents will ever invite us back to camp with them, and if I thought it was a big deal to get The General out there before I'm not sure what kind of compromises and promises I will have to make to get him to do it again. I did offer him this: camping doesn't get much worse than Saturday night. Unless the grease fire actually takes place inside the camper. That would have been significantly worse.
Any bets on whether our girls will have that same "through rose colored glasses" approach to their childhood memories of camping at Comlara as I do? I'm sincerely hoping so.