In a valiant (if I may say) attempt to commune with nature and knock off some city grit, I planned a surprise camping trip for my husband and three kids.
First, I am not a camper. I prefer beds to sleeping bags and couldn’t care less about stuffing my family of five into a tent “for the experience”. No bathrooms, no showers, and, I’m sorry, but…cooking meals on a fire? No, thank you. My everyday life is hard enough. If I’m going to spend the money and time to get away, I’m going to get away. To a place with air conditioning and deep-tissue massage.
Alas, I married an Eagle Scout. Which means that occasionally, I need to indulge his zest for sleeping under the stars.
My husband had been working long hours on a grueling–albeit creatively satisfying–project. He was spending 14 hours a day cooped up with his computer on the sixth floor of his office building, eating takeout food. So I thought, what better way to celebrate Father’s Day than to get out and fill our lungs with country air?
We set off after T-ball on Saturday morning, Jeff with not a clue as to where we were going or what we were doing. After a quick stop at Target (for pillows that never made it into the car), we cruised the three hours to Mississippi Palisades State Park in Savanna, IL.
How great does that sound? The mighty Mississippi River and Palisades, a sight I assumed would be as breathtaking as the ones we’d loved in the Pacific Palisades in California. Honestly, for a non-camper, I was stoked! I had planned out every detail, down to the chocolate stuffed bananas we would roast on the fire, until it was a melted masterpiece into which we’d dip our homemade nutter butter cookies (his favorite, of course). I even brought individual boxes of wine on which we would casually sip as the kids chased fireflies around the campfire. It was camping as camping should be. Camping as done by the gods. Perfection. We would have a new appreciation for nature and for each other after this magnificent experience.
I managed to keep the surprise until we pulled in to the campsite. Jeff was SHOCKED. Shocked that I would willingly plan this trip, and shocked that I was able to pack up the minivan so efficiently. After the requisite hugs and thank yous, we started unloading the car, scoping out where to put up the tent, and encouraging the kids to take a deep breath and prepare to enjoy the great outdoors.
Fifteen minutes later, we were back in the car.
Have you ever heard of the Fungus Gnat? It is a tiny bug that will fly directly into your nose, your eyes, your ears…really any part of you. And it is currently experiencing its biggest population boom in 20 years. Farm animals across western Illinois and eastern Iowa are suffocating, because if you do not have the ability or coordination to constantly swipe them away from yourself, you are as good as gone. We discovered quickly that our two-year-old is about as coordinated as a farm animal. And so back in the car we went.
They don’t bite, let me be clear. But they hover like CRAZY. Like your children hover, when you are trying to talk on the phone or use the bathroom. And they are equally relentless and completely undeterred by the obscene amounts of DEET we sprayed all over ourselves.
So just like that, camping was over. All of my preparations, all of my packing and meal-planning was for naught. My husband had to quickly shapeshift from surprised awesome-gift-receiver to emergency damage-control-officer. It was devastating. I was inconsolable. Worst of all, there was no Plan B. How had I not thought of a plan B??
A quick Google search informed us that there was a Holiday Inn Express about 20 minutes away. I drove us there through tears, crushed that our commune with nature had turned into a night in a random hotel devoid of fireflies or stars or fresh air.
You know what, though? It wasn’t terrible. A dip in the hotel’s indoor pool and a handful of cocktails from the local Applebee’s later, I’d pretty much stopped drowning in despair. Sure there were no hikes along the Mississippi, but we did go to the Buffalo Bill Museum and a AAA baseball game. And that makes for a pretty great Father’s Day. In fact, Jeff said it was the most memorable Father’s day he has ever had.
So, I’ll probably forever mourn the loss of the camping trip that never was. Lament the many hours of meal preparation that degenerated into a cooler-full of spoiled food, and the thwarted frugality, turned large donation to the Iowa economy. No, I’m not quite ready to laugh about it, and I’m sure as hell not ready to try it again.
But I did learn something–instead of being so upset about everything that didn’t happen, I should try to relish the memories that we made. My family learned more than we ever thought we would about perseverance, quick decision-making and being adaptable as a sometimes clunky group of five. The adventure was not at all what I thought it would be, but hey–maybe life really IS more about the journey than the destination.