Camping with Preschoolers

I have exceedingly fond memories of camping with my parents when my sisters and I were very small. We hiked Burney Falls when I was seven, and camped on Pebble beach when I was six. Once we saw the California Redwoods. So when my husband suggested that we should take our 2- and 3-year-old camping on his friend’s ranch next to the Molalla River, I was all for it.
I packed and I organized, I planned and I prepped. I bought those awesome baby food squeeze tubes that my kids think are smoothies, and I went to every grocery store in town trying to find all-natural hot dogs without cherry powder or paprika in them. (Never did find any, ended up with chicken bratwurst from Safeway) I gathered everything one family could possibly need for one night in a tent, and brought it all home

When Hubby got home from work, I had everything stuffed into the back of the truck and the kids and I were waiting by the door with bated breath for our epic outdoor adventure. 

Yeah, not so much. 

I did have everything in the back of the truck, except the cooler which I couldn’t lift, but unfortunately, he almost patiently pointed out that the moment we got over 35 mph, the tent, lawn chairs, and sleeping mats were going to scatter along the road like a trail of breadcrumbs.
So he unpacked it all and put it back. 

After that rough start, and a small argument about the state of the house, (Hey! I was getting ready for this adventure! Who has time to fold laundry?) we were on our way. 

“Mommy, are we there, yet?”

“Mommy! He touch mine blanky!”

“Mommy, I’m hungry.”

“Mommy, can we go home, now?”

We were meeting some friends at the campsite for dinner, so as soon as we got there we started unpacking. Of course, the first thing the kids wanted to do was go in the water. Hubby started the barbeque. Then he set up the tent. Then he unloaded the truck. I stood there, feeling a little foolish, with absolutely no idea what to do or what order to do it in. Suddenly, my Mommy skills were called into play:

“Mommy! Sister has to go POTTY!” (She has her very own narrator)

“Ok, ok! Let’s go! Wanna go potty in the trees over here?”


Note to self: When taking preschoolers to the “bathroom” in the woods, a) always have wipes on you, and b) always ask them to specify what they need to do. Leaves are not very comfortable.

Somehow, dinner got made and eaten. Somehow, the kids got changed and strapped into their life vests. Somehow I got into my shorts and flip-flops and made it down to the river with them without anyone eating dirt, literally or figuratively. 

“What’s that?”

“That’s a crawdad. You want Mommy to catch it?”

“Yes! Yes!”

“Here it is, be careful and don’t let it pinch you. You want to touch it?”


Somehow we all survived the river. Somehow we all made it back up the bank. Somehow we wrangled the kids into their pajamas and into their sleeping bags. Though Baby Girl kept calling it a ‘suitcase’, so hopefully she doesn’t tell anyone that Mommy and Daddy made her sleep in a suitcase and zipped it up. 


That was probably one of the longest nights of my life. Every time one kid would start to doze off, the other would wake him/her up. They fought bedtime from 8 o’clock until 10:30, at which point, frustrated and exhausted beyond the bounds of reason, Hubby and I each took a kid to opposite sides of the tent and cuddled and shushed them until they fell asleep. 

Wish we’d have thought of THAT sooner…

We did have fun, though, we went on a short walk the next morning. The kids tried to skip rocks on the slow-moving water like Daddy, and the dog ran circles around the campsite trying his best to keep everyone in his field of vision. Big Brother was pretty excited that Daddy let him poke the campfire with a long stick, and Baby Girl tried to throw every rock she could reach into the river… and even some she couldn’t.

I realized this weekend that it’s been 20 years since I went camping. I also realized that neither camping nor preschoolers are for the faint of heart, and both at the same time may very well be certifiable. 

Maybe we’ll try again in 4 or 5 years. 


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