Monday, August 18, 2008

The great outdoors.

I love camping. I have always loved camping.

Camping to me was all about eating beanie weenies and s'mores, drinking ice-cold milk from the cooler and sometimes Coca Cola straight from the 2 liter bottle (why not? we're camping!). Kicking the can with my mom and dad and yelling ollie ollie oxen free! even though I never quite knew what it meant. Playing house in the camper with my sister and our dolls and reading Charlotte's Web in the big bed above the truck cabin.

It was using my mom's Noxzema to wash the dirt off my face and feeling the grown-up tingle of really clean skin. It was washing my freshly permed hair for the very first time in a stream with baby shampoo while my parents rolled their eyes at the absurdity of it and wondered, whose kid is this?

Camping was me and my dad riding bikes to the swimming pool where my first attempt at a running dive off the diving board resulted in the belly flop heard round the world.

It was coming up with family photo ops such as the walking sticks as antlers series that I am 89% sure is what stuck my sister with the nickname "Moose" for the rest of her life (if not that, what?).

Camping was the geeky Girl Scout equivalent to a post-adolescent slumber party, laying in a sleeping bag next to my best friends and skimming through Judy Blume's Forever with a flashlight, looking for the parts about sex so we could read them together while gasping and giggling and wondering is that what sex is really like?

Camping was the closest I got to moving out of my parents' house before actually moving out of my parents' house. It meant I could drink beer and smoke cigarettes and have sex and do all the things normal college kids who don't live with their parents can do. (By a campfire, no less!)

Camping was my final hurrah as a west-coaster, sleeping in a tent with my sister, getting drunk around the campfire with my mom and her life-long girlfriends, staggering to the local saloon to watch in horror as several women in their 60s (including my mother) climbed onto the bar to to sing along with the country crooner on the jukebox.

No matter how hard I tried I couldn't come up with anything negative to say about camping. Nothing except, it has been way too long since I've slept in a tent.

Bill is not a big fan of camping. Once we saw a comedian on TV who compared camping to pretending you live in a trailer park. I laughed like you do when you watch comedy and really want the comedian to succeed. Bill laughed like, "Bwwaahhh! A trailer park! That's exactly... awwhahaha... ooh, she nailed it! Nailed it! *chuckling and shaking his head* That's why I hate camping."

It's been my goal for years to get him to see camping from my perspective. To see that just an hour away from home, there is a whole world just waiting to be explored. A world of burnt marshmallows and sleeping bags and quiet, wide open spaces begging to be appreciated.

During our 8 year marriage I have succeeded at getting him into a tent just once. I was seven months pregnant and having fairly regular panic attacks about life post-baby ("I'll never get to go camping now!"). Not wanting to be pinned as the one who ruined my life by knocking me up, Bill agreed to take me camping.

It was everything I had hoped for: friends swapping stories around the campfire, Mark Kozelek singing Modest Mouse covers softy in the background, cuddling up in a tent with my husband and our dog, eating cheese and crackers and anything that could be stuck on a stick and cooked over the fire. I had so much fun that I forgot I was pregnant. My jacket wouldn't button and I looked around like, "Wow, OK guys, no more s'mores for me!"

Forgetting you're pregnant in your third trimester is a really big deal.

Bill must have had a good time too because this weekend, after just minimum amounts of whining and carrying on about how I'll never go camping again, he pulled all of our gear out of the basement, packed up the car and took his family camping.

We decided on Montgomery Bell State Park, just an hour outside of Nashville and the top pick by Music City Moms. As we drove through the campground looking for our perfect home away from home, I was giddy with excitement. There was a nice mix of tents and RVs, lots of kids riding bikes and a playground, activity center and beach nearby. Most of the camp sites backed up to hiking trails and the entire camp ground was surrounded by beautiful shade trees.

After checking out several options, we set up camp at a fairly level spot that was close (but not too close) to the bathrooms and had a few empty spaces on either side. Bill and I quickly set up the tent while Liam discovered the joys of camping. Dirt! Ashes! Rocks! Dirt! Dog Water! More dirt!

Several baby wipes and a memory foam pad in the tent later, Liam and I retreated into the comfiest, coziest den of love I have ever seen. I watched the trees blow over head and tried to nap while Liam colored and read and pulled the pillow out from under my head anytime it looked like I might actually fall asleep ("No, Mama, you're not taking a nap anymore!")

It was perfect.

That is, it was perfect. Then, they showed up.

A white Ford Taurus that had obviously been auctioned off at the Dickson County public vehicle auction sped through the camp ground on a mission. There was no browsing for the perfect spot, no comparing and contrasting, no calculating the distance to the bathroom or from the nearest camper. No hesitation whatsoever.

As Liam and I rolled around in the tent, tickling each other and laughing uncontrollably, Bill motioned with his head and muttered under his breath, "We've got company." Sure enough, despite the many beautiful camp sites in every corner of the campground, the car pulled into the spot right next to us. They were so close to our tent, they greeted us when they got out of the car.

It was like being on a half-empty Southwest flight with a lap child and a row all to yourself when an overweight child-hating man with a hoagie and a head cold sits down in your aisle seat. Sure, you can sigh dramatically, make a big production about not knowing where else to put your diaper bag, and coo passive aggressively to your non-speaking infant I know it's an empty flight, it doesn't make sense to me either, sometimes that's just how people are, but it doesn't work. It never works. You are stuck against the window for the entire flight and no matter how bad you have to pee or want to get up and walk the aisle you will just have to suck it up and accept that some people are selfish and stupid and there's nothing you can do about it.

This is how we felt about our new neighbors.

We adjusted our tent windows and doors to maximum spying positions and set out trying to figure out who the hell these people thought they were. There was a fat woman in a fluorescent orange t-shirt and mirrored sunglasses and a long-haired skinny one in cut off shorts and a bikini top. Was it a mother and her rebellious teen daughter? Could they be sisters? Friends? Lesbian lovers?

They moved quickly and never stopped talking in their mind-numbingly thick country accents. The skinny one set up the tent while the fat one unloaded the trunk of the car. I saw a case of grape soda and a plastic table cloth. They pulled out a hair dryer to inflate their air mattress. We watched and listened with the same sense of sick curiosity that lulls people into watching reality TV.

After a few minutes, the skinny one asked us if we would watch their site so they could go get all the kids. All the kids? We should have said, "Oh we were just leaving," but instead we nodded and tried to look gracious as she shouted, "Y'all are awesome. AWESOME! Hey, they're awesome!"

Once they left, we pretty much forgot all about them. I succeeded in taking a nap and, once again, everything was right in the world.

When they got back with a slew of odd looking children (a fat redhead, a knobby-kneed dark-skinned one, an itty bitty tow-headed one, and probably like 3 or 4 more by the sound of it), we decided to cash in our awesomeness and ask them to watch our site while we checked out the lake.

When we got back, Liam was wet and tired and we knew we had a very small window of opportunity to get food in his belly before he fell asleep.

Yeah, cause a kid who never sleeps anywhere but his own bed will totally fall asleep outside in a tent while Dumb and Dumber get drunk and yell obscenities at their kids while listening to really bad radio and carrying on about the most asinine shit all night long. Right.

"Git yer ass over here!"

"We're mean cuz we're single moms and we gotta be."

"Git away from there! I don't want no pee on my side of the tent."

At one point while we were testing to see if the "cry it out method" would work in a tent, we looked over and saw Miss Bikini Top pole dancing with a tree.

Liam cried and cried. I wanted to cry too. This was not the camping I knew and loved. This was the trailer park camping, the comedian's camping, Bill's camping. I got the joke now, it just wasn't all that funny.

We took turns trying to get Liam to sleep and spying on the neighbors. When it was my turn in the tent, I did my best to be there for Liam without pissing him off. His stubborn streak was on full force and any sort of touching or talking or, God forbid, shushing, was met with an uncontrollable wailing tantrum. I guess he figured if the neighbors could hoot and holler all night long, so could he.

After what felt like forever, Liam finally looked around, wadded Blue Bi (the smaller of his two blankets) into a pillow and stuck the corner of White Bi into his mouth. He got really still and sucked on his blankie for a moment before laying his head down and trying to go to sleep. I laid next to him, wishing I could reach out and rub his back or stroke his hair.

It was like watching him in an ultrasound: the shadow of his little arms and legs struggling to get comfortable, the beauty of his profile in the light of the flickering fire, the longing to hold him even though he was right there in front of me. Waves of love and nostalgia washed over me as I remembered my swimmy little baby stretching and yawning and sucking his toes inside of me.

Eventually, Liam fell asleep and I managed to get out of the tent just in time for camp karaoke. The radio blared the most mediocre music and surprise!, our neighbors knew every word of every song. We survived horrific duets of Creed, Barenaked Ladies, Shania Twain and many, many others. Once in a while a good song would come on and we'd look at each other like, "This could be OK?" Then they'd start in with their rubber band voices and we'd mime suicide while shaking our heads in utter disbelief. They butchered Prince's Purple Rain in a way I didn't think possible. The skinny one even did the talking bit where Prince breaks it down. With feeling.

I could only pretend to enjoy myself for so long. S'mores didn't even sound good to me. I took a final walk to the bathroom, glaring at their camp as I walked past in the dark, then we threw up our hands and called it a night.

I don't know what kind of dream world I was living in earlier in the day when I thought our tent was all comfy and wonderful because when we crawled under the covers to go to sleep, it was immediately obvious that our bed sucked. The memory foam pad was no match for the rocks that jutted out of the Earth under every bony part of our bodies. I was too cold, then I was too hot, then I had to pee. Several times. Then I grabbed a blanket and some beach towels from the car to try to pad our bed a little more and didn't realize until the blanket was in our bed that it was covered with hay and dirt from our last family picnic. We were tired and sore and really, really pissed off.

After hours of tossing and turning and getting up to pee in the dirt and laying perfectly still when Liam woke up and listening to the redneck women carry on and on and on, Bill finally had enough. Motivated by Van Halen wailing, "Right now!" he got dressed and marched next door to reason with the drunken whores. They, of course, had no idea we could hear them.

Not long after we fell asleep, one of their children woke up screaming and the whole mess started up again. Bill packed up camp in record time and we were home eating sausage biscuits by 9:30 am.

On the drive home, we tried to stay awake by laughing about our night in the trailer park. "I hope Liam will remember this night as a warning: go to college!" "Yeah, then he can pay someone eleven bucks a night to pretend he didn't!"

Bill had that smug, I told you so look on his face. "See, babe? Maybe we're just not camping people."

"Nice try. If you think that was our last camping trip you're crazy. No way in hell am I letting that be my last camping trip. I swear I will prove to you that camping is fun."

"And you wonder where Liam gets his stubborn streak."

The truth is, I might not be a camping person. I really enjoy things like comfort and privacy and could easily do without the 8 loads of smoky laundry that accompany even the shortest of camping trips. Not to mention all the packing and unpacking. And the dirt. I don't really like dirt.

Is there anything I actually like about camping?


As long as there is even the slightest chance I can spend quiet, uninterrupted time with the people I love, I will continue to be a camping person. When I think back on this trip, it will be this moment that I remember. Even now with the bruises and the laundry and the pile of camping stuff on my kitchen table and that awful Creed song still stuck in my head, I can look at that picture and know, without a doubt, that I'm a camping person.

Sorry, babe. It's not over until the fat lady sings I say it is.


Halie said...

Ha Ha!!! We love camping, and we just had a similar experience. We left thinking, no more tent camping. We need a trailer to get away from the idiots...that would really make our experience like a trailer park, huh?

mamalove said...

Freaking hilarious! Excellent writing, Mama. I felt like I was right there with ya, especially when Van Halen yelled "Right Now!". heh. Welcome to MCM, BTW.

LClaire said...

wow, wow, wow, Just love your stuff!

sunnidbean79 said...

we went camping this weekend and sarah said i must read this post cause it was so funny.
i had a simmilar experience to this when jared and i still lived with our parents we tried to have a get away night "camping". the whole damn place was empty!! what luck we were going to have!!
but then, we took a nap and woke up to the redneck family reunion next door. the bitch i am..i got up, glared at them and picked up my non staked tent and threw it in the back of the truck. we moved all the way to the other side of the EMPTY campground while eating apples and watching the sunset the second loudest most annyoing rednecks dared to set up not 10 feet from us.
this is why i try to avoid state parks and took up backpacking.
your welcome to join me at anytime.
the sacrifice of not having running water is well worth it!