What Kids Learn From a Mom Who Camps

Four years ago my husband found himself in a changing job and needing to spend 4 months in Alaska. Faced with the pressures of daily family life alone, I could have felt overwhelmed. Instead, without hesitation, I determined that I and my 4 boys were going to make the most of it. I packed them all (B was 5, P was 3, and the babies were 9-months) into our van and struck out on a spontaneous 4-month cross-country camping adventure. In that 4 months we stayed in a few hotels, we crashed on some family couches, and we spent 56 days camping. It was the best decision I’ve ever made!

Family Camping

(Yes, you read correctly.  56 days, camping, with 9-month old twins. This is the point people usually stop me when I’m telling the story. They don’t want to hear more. It’s too far from their comprehension. And every time I look them straight in the eye and reply, “We LOVED it!”)

Today I’d like to share three important things we learned on our 4-month journey...

1.  Mom can put up a tent. 
I will be the first to admit I am usually lazy when we get to a campsite. I’m more than willing to watch my husband put up the tent and am very good at instructing the kids how to get everything laid out inside of it. During our 4-month adventure without him we camped in 10 different locations. We developed a new system with Mom staking the tent into the ground, tightening up the rainfly guylines, patching up a hole when it rained, and tearing down when it was time to leave. 

In Idaho I stayed up all night comforting my little boys as the tent flapped around us in strong winds, but never came crashing down upon us. On the Oregon coast, I taught them how to keep collecting raindrops from showering down on top of them when the door was open. They learned the same about not tracking Nevada sand in and out and keeping Illinois mosquitoes at bay. The tent became a safe haven, our home, built by Mom and standing strong.

Hanging out warm and dry in our summer home

2.  Mom cannot start a fire. 
The second thing we learned is much more humbling. I am not good at building a fire. It’s really only by luck that we ever got a single twig to light. We gathered kindling, branches, and logs. We tried A-frames, and teepees, and just throwing everything in all together. We stuffed the fire ring with newspapers, with dry leaves, with an entire roll of paper towels. Barely even a spark. Our first attempt at lighting moist Pacific Northwest logs ended with a lot of smoke and nothing else and it was hours before we eventually settled for a lukewarm can of soup and lightly tanned marshmallows.  

"Tanning" marshmallows on Mom's s smoking log pile

After that I got creative...or cheated...and bought a propane stove. We never gave up on building a fire-every dinner we ate in the Redwoods was cooked that way-but I avoided endless nights of hungry moaning and frustration by swallowing my pride and preparing most our meals on a cooking surface I knew I could rely on. 

Proof I did get a fire started once in awhile

3.  Mom loves to travel and be outdoors and can teach me to love that, too. 
I am a vagabond stuck in a suburban housewife's body. My remedy for stress or a bad mood day is to hop in the car and go somewhere...anywhere. I didn’t think twice about being “homeless” for a summer. It got me away from the monotony of housework and appointment keeping. There were days when it was really hard and I begged my husband to come back home. Yet, they were outweighed by the days I just felt happy. 

Happy to be living my dream; to be traveling and free. Happy to have nothing else to do but hunt for seashells, or hike in the forest, or stare at jellyfish in the aquarium, or count Midwest water towers as we drove for hours. With a baby strapped on my back (and sometimes another one on my front) we climbed lighthouses and scaled rock piles. We happened upon small town festivals and larger county fairs. I sat back and learned to explore the world like a little boy. I listened to them. I talked with them. I hugged them and they laughed with me. 

Oregon Lighthouses
Climbing an Oregon lighthouse

Oregon Coast Beaches
Cape Lookout State Park
Fun on the Oregon Coast

Somewhere along the way, B learned its okay to ask a million questions about the world around him. P's 3 yr-old soul screamed out that his home is in nature. And, much to everyone’s utter unbelief, the babies survived. When the end of summer finally  came, when my husband was back with us, and we moved back into a traditional home, I looked around  me and that is when I finally felt overwhelmed... with love for my adventurous camping family.

What lessons have your kids learned while camping?

Want to read more about our epic summer adventure?
a cool hotel we stayed in.

More of the tales will be on there way...