This was the image I had in my head of camping with my family and some close friends for the first time.
Ok you can stop laughing now!
Of course it was nothing like this! The reality was somewhat different to my imaginings. To begin with putting up the tent was an absolute nightmare. It took about two hours, and our children lost their patience long before the tent was erected. The problem? We borrowed a beautiful bell tent off a kind friend but failed to do any research on how to put it up. This combined with me thinking the tent needed to perfectly even all the way round, no sags or unevenness, was a recipe for a very stressful tent erecting experience.
Because it took so long to get the tent up, dinner was eaten in a fragmented, disjointed way, not the coming together, laughing, joyful event I had fantasised about.
Bed time was another issue, we decided that we should try to get the boys to sleep in the same way we would normally at home, (mistake) so I laid down to feed Biscuit while my husband read stories for Boris. This started off ok, but soon Biscuit got restless and started wandering round the tent distracting Boris who then decided that he wanted to go home and sleep in his own bed and didn't want to sleep on the floor in a tent after all. After something like an hour we gave up trying to get them to sleep and decided to just sit outside with them on our laps watching cbeebies on my husbands tablet. Why didn't we do this to start with? It would have saved a lot of stress and tears.
The night was fine, we were warm and cosy and dry in the bell tent though bizarrely in spite of my tiredness I couldn't get to sleep?! Waking up in the ethereal light coming through the thick canvas in the morning was a beautiful thing and everything else went well that morning even though we had to get the tent down in the rain.
So lessons learnt from this camping trip:
Be prepared - As the scouts say, and by this I mean plan ahead. Find out the arrangement of the camp site (is it fenced in, can a gate be closed or is it always open etc), research how to erect your tent, (maybe even have a practice run in the garden), plan what activities you want to do during the day so you have something to look forward too, and one added stress removed, Find out what the showers and toilets are like so there are no hidden surprises when you are expecting a flushing toilet with all mod cons and you are presented with a porta loo and a hose pipe, or when you are expecting free showers and find you have to pay 20p and you have no change.
Be well equipped - Roughing it can be fun when you are a young single at a festive or a couple biking it round the uk for the summer or such like, but when you are camping with children there are a few pieces of equipment that I highly recommend packing with you. A table - (thankfully our friends had the foresight to bring one as it didn't occur to us,) it keeps the stove, knives, raw meat (not that we would be eating any of that but you know what I mean) etc out of children's reach and clear from the ground, something to hold water, (three small drinking bottles is probably not enough), chairs, because when you are old and creaky (and just spent 2 hours erecting a tent) sitting on the floor is no fun at all. Wine of course needs no explanation (did I mention it took 2 hours to erect the tent?),
Good enough is good enough - Regardless of the type of tent be it bell, dome or teepee, it doesn't have to be perfect, so long as it doesn't let in any rain or wind the odd wrinkle or fold here and there is completely fine. The same applies to meals, sleeping bag arrangement, washing and so on. Perfection is neither necessary nor does it add to the enjoyment of the experience, if it's good enough then that's good enough.
Manage your expectations - (read; lower your expectations) The children aren't going to behave in the way they do at home, everything is different and exciting and tiring to them, if they resist washing, eating, going to bed etc don't fight it, go with the flow, maybe your children go to sleep in ten minutes and maybe they won't and if they won't that's ok, one night of no teeth brushing isn't going to result in any teeth falling out, and a meal of marshmallows instead of the delicious pasta dish you prepared in advance isn't going to do any harm as a one off.
Bring entertainment - (and don't feel bad about using it) Be it games like cricket, football or throwing a Frisbee, some toy cars, colouring books or the trusty tablet with some pre downloaded episodes of Charlie and Lola, entertainment for the kiddos is important, and there is no need to beat yourself up for letting them watch cbeebies on the tablet if it helps them calm down of an evening or keeps them safe whilst dinner is cooking.
Be there for your children: Camping for the first time can be both exciting and scary for a small child. They may get upset for what seems to be the most irrational reasons, but it's important to remember that their feelings matter especially when they are in a new and strange setting. It is more important to be present for your children than to get the tent up in record time, even if it means stopping for a cuddle now and then (did I mention that the tent took two hours to erect?? TWO HOURS).
All my own work
Special thanks to Neill and Hannah for being so kind, patient and organised. And to Charlotte for lending us her beautiful bell tent.