We nearly lost it when we realized we’d forgotten our hammer and couldn’t find the tent corners, but we both took a deep breath and pushed through. It was our first time camping together as a family and my husband and I were both determined not to ruin the experience. The kids were bouncing off the bushes with excitement to sleep in a tent, but we were both still somewhat apprehensive about the whole tent-set-up thing.
I grew up camping, but in an RV with a microwave and mattress. My grandpa John would take us to state parks in a bright orange motorhome, and before the weekend was over, the friendly farmer was best buddies with the whole circle. My husband, a tried-and-true city boy, had only camped once as a 10 year old, and didn’t share my fond memories as his tent had leaked and he slept in water all night. For obvious reasons, he was less eager than I to reattempt the endeavor.
Between sleepless toddlers and rural Midwestern campground dynamics, we never felt particularly drawn to the experience, but the mountains and the sea tempted us, and we bought a tent last Christmas. We’ve since been determined to take our feels-God-in-the-mountains son and comes-alive-in-the-ocean daughter camping by the beach. We decided a short, 24 hour trip would be best for our debut adventure in case things went really bad. It’s one of the things we’re learning from transition – to dive into new situations head first, but to not stay under for too long.
So, we dove.
I put on my friendly-Grandpa-John hat and borrowed a makeshift hammer from our neighbor. The tent got set up without a fight, and it even stayed up for the whole night. Hubby and I were so darn proud of ourselves that we snuck in the tent to cuddle but the kids came in and squealed, “Eeeewwwww!” and then jumped on top of us to join the love.
We walked down to the Pacific waves with the idea of a “just a short walk before dinner” and the fully clothed kids ended up drenched head-to-toe while we dug our toes in the sand, watching the surfers and the sunset. We roasted hot dogs and ate too many marshmallows and toasted ourselves by the fire once the sun went down. We stared at the glowing embers and marveled at the stars we hadn’t seen for so long. Then we snuggled into our proudly-constructed tent, and visited Harry and Hermione by flashlight.
My daughter woke up in the middle of night with a stomachache from too many hot dogs and marshmallows. My dear husband braved leaving his sleeping bag to help her and ended up giving her his spot on the soft-for-us-old-folks bed to sleep on the camping pad meant-for-much-younger-bodies. I hunkered low in my sleeping bag, hoping I wouldn’t need to give up my soft spot too…he’s always been a better parent in the middle of the night than me. Thankfully, we all fell back asleep, and I awoke with my son’s elbow in one ear and my daughter’s body plastered to my other side. It was like heaven as we lay there snuggling our cold noses close, listening to singing birds and crashing waves and early rising toddlers.
From just one night under the stars, I am reminded anew at all the little gifts that catch us be surprise when we pause the chaos long enough to listen to the calm. After more than 15 years together, hubby and I have *almost* learned how to put something together peaceably and finish with a high-five and a long, grateful hug. The waves slowed our souls and in the midst of the breakneck speed of a semester, we remembered each other. The fire burned long, and I found myself grateful for both embers and flames in the fires of life. Between some rough years of early marriage, babies, toddlers, careers, PhD programs, and lonely days we’d nursed the embers on for quite a few years. The fire had never gone out completely, but it was good to remember that keeping embers warm allows for flames to rise again.