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National Editorials & Columns

Toddlers in tents

Last weekend, my group of friends and I headed off to our annual camping trip. Over the years, we have solidified this event — the number of people invited, the location, the food, the sun-to-beer-to-hangover ratio.

We’ve learned and adapted from mistakes of the past. A ghost sighting from two years prior resulted in our positioning the tent door so it faced a different direction. Last year’s windstorm resulted in splintered poles and the purchase of a new tent altogether. We’ve had footballs impaled on Joshua trees. We’ve had our football throwing arms impaled on Joshua trees. And we’ve experienced that terrifying feeling in your gut of being truly lost in the wilderness more than once. But this year, we encountered a new camping challenge — a force stronger than a windstorm, scarier than a ghost. This year, our camping trip included a toddler.

Camping has always been my form of meditation, my yoga. It’s how I unwind. Turns out that it’s hard to feel serene with your toddler teetering on the edge of a cliff while you scream, “Stop trying to kill yourself while Mommy is trying to harness her Zen!”

I’m fairly confident I just quoted the Buddha.

Foolishly, I expected cloud gazing and star counting. Instead, I got sweaty chasing my son around the rocky terrain, steering him away from snake holes, bees and sunburn. Suddenly, it’s clear why all my children died from snakebites every time I played “Oregon Trail.” The whole family could have made it out West if, instead of exploring, the youngest digital settlers would have stayed in their wagon, playing Nintendo DS and singing songs from “Frozen” as their mother wanted.

I’m guessing that’s pretty historically accurate.

My son broke my camping calm with his dirt-digging, valley-screaming, rock-climbing antics, but after a while, I decided to stop fighting it. This trip wouldn’t be about tents and tranquility. This trip was meant to be about experiencing the great outdoors through the eyes of a toddler.

And once I allowed myself to stop running after my son and instead run with him, I could see his little mind figuring out how the whole wilderness thing works. I could practically hear his inner monologue as he discovered all the wonderful things about camping that I take for granted. It laced even the grossest parts of the weekend with a little bit of magic.

Below are 10 things my son learned about camping, said in the voice I imagine his inner monologue to sound like:

1) Outhouses are amazing. They provide awesome echoes after your screams and have a super-cool hole you can climb down into. For some weird reason, my mama kept chasing after me every time I sneaked away to the outhouse, waving her arms, and stopped me before I could go spelunking — this time.

2) Why sit on an anthill when you can sit on a red anthill? Just saying, we’re in the woods; let’s live dangerously.

3) Nature is best explored naked.

4) Hammocks are so much fun but are impossible to get out of. You don’t think my folks knew that when they put me in the hammock ... and then kept putting me in. They wouldn’t do that to me, right? Nah.

5) Food tastes better with mud on your hands. Even better with crushed bugs between your fingers. Try to bite me again, red ant. Just try it.

6) Chili causes some serious diaper rash. For reals, y’all. I couldn’t sit or stand for a full 24 hours after that blasted bean-fest. What is chili pepper made of, pure fire?

7) Speaking of fire, the campfire calls to me. It whispers, “Touch me. Jump in me. Don’t be afraid of the heat. I’ll give you a warm hug.”

8) Moms cannot hear the siren call of campfires. They pull you away every time you try to jump in. Moms are terrible campers.

9) Tents are so much fun to run around in but impossible to unzip. Do you think my folks knew that when they zipped up the door? They wouldn’t do that to me, right? Nah.

10) If your lame parents hinder you from injuring yourself while camping, slam your fingers in the car door on your way home. Can’t leave a trip without a battle wound.

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