Close to six years ago, now, we bought a pop-up camper. And even though we don’t use it as often as we’d like (because there are things like soccer games every Saturday morning in both the fall and spring), it’s still my favorite vacation. (Well, it’s probably the only one. But wasn’t that the point?)
It hasn’t always been easy (okay, it’s never really easy, but now, at least during set-up and take-down, we move like a well-oiled machine). On our very first attempt at pop-up camping, tropical storm-force winds ripped off the awning.
Then there was the time we grossly underestimated how cold fifty degrees could be, and how hard it is to keep a baby warm, even when you sleep with her against your body. So we bought a space heater at a nearby Walmart, and the thickest sleeping bag they sold.
One year, the Jeep’s engine decided to destroy itself, so we lacked a tow vehicle for Wanee. And though I wouldn’t recommend it, we stuffed the Matrix with ourselves and our gear and survived a three-day music festival in a tent with two small children. And no real running water (though we walked them, naked, in the dark, to one of the bathouses, only to find out the water was too cold). We had nothing to hush the sound of crying, like the hum of the pop-up’s air conditioning (yes, the pop-up has a/c; I never claimed to be “roughing it,” and have you been to Florida in the summer?), and nothing to muffle us from the music the night the Allman Brothers decided to turn it up. Way up.
Or the first year we went to Wanee and it rained so hard and for so long that even our bones felt soggy.
And aside from any major catastrophes, performing the regular, everday routine can sometimes pose a challenge. Like waiting for a bottle to heat up on a gas stove at 3am while an infant screams into the silence of the campground. Or backing into the campsite only to realize the water and electricity hookup is on the other side of the site next to you and no one told you about the necessary extension cord. So there’s work involved — a lot of work. But the kids get dirty and tired and have the time of their lives. And so do we.
They play outside from too early in the morning until it’s dark enough to start a fire. The middle one doesn’t have to wear shoes all day if she doesn’t want to (and, usually, she doesn’t). They breathe. There’s no television and they don’t even notice. They go to bed without complaint inside those little sleeping bags. And even if we’ve managed a shower, they still smell of sunblock and bugspray and their own sweet sweat. And when they drift off to sleep, that sleep is sound. Perhaps it is the soundest sleep.
They’ve rocked out to bands like Widespread Panic and Robert Randolph and The Family Band and the North Mississippi Allstars in wide-open fields and others have stopped to watch (and often, join in) because it’s a happiness you can’t ignore. It’s a kind of happiness that makes you feel like maybe, you should dance, too.
And once in a while, if you’re lucky, when you think it’s too hot and
buggy and the air is thick with humidity that even an afternoon thunderstorm won’t break, you stop into the Myakka Outpost to find they have craft beers on tap.
Sometimes I worry that my kids will someday notice that we can’t give them things like Disney World, even though we live only a half-hour away. We’ve been to Downtown Disney before and we’ve seen those little girls coming from the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, and I know that my six-year-old has noticed them and their pretty dresses and their sparkly hair. But every day on the way home from school this week, they’ve talked about their upcoming camping trip. They’ve talked about their sleeping bags. They’ve talked about marshmallows. And fishing. And the bugs and seashells they’ll collect.
So maybe we’ve got a few more years of sleeping outside. Or maybe more than a few.