My son Easton celebrated his ninth birthday recently. He is a one-of-a-kind kid; he is smart, funny, adventurous, loves chopping wood, and has a grin that can quickly get him in to and out of trouble.
He has never been overly excited about having birthday parties with the usual cake, balloons, superhero themes, and lots of other kids. So, rather than throwing him a party each year, we let him choose something he’d like to do. A few years ago we went on a North Shore adventure; last year we went fishing in the Alexandria Lakes area; and this year he asked if we could go camping.
At this point, if I could insert scary music, I would.
I am going to let you in on a little secret. My husband, Karl, and I are very reluctant campers. We’ve been married for almost 14 years and the only time we have camped was the time I set up a tent in the yard and the kids and I slept in it for roughly half of the night. We own camping gear like sleeping bags and an air mattress (used for slumber parties), hot dog roasting sticks used when we have bonfires, and a tent for the kids to set up in the yard that provides endless hours of entertainment. Never have we used all of these things together for an actual camping expedition as a family.
A few weeks before Easton’s birthday we gathered all of our camping gear and took a short trip to the Okoboji, Iowa area and camped there for a couple of nights. This was our pre-birthday camping test trip.
The same day we left for our trip, I had picked up our oldest daughter, Abby, from Bible camp where she had just spent a week on an island with no modern amenities. She was our camping “expert” that weekend with campfire meal ideas and all of the basic survival skills.
Overall, Okoboji was a fairly successful trip — minus the fact that it was exactly one million degrees outside and there was no relief from the heat overnight. We were only minutes from town and could run for any supplies that we forgot, which we took full advantage of. It also helped that some of our best friends were smarter than us and rented a room at a resort down the road from our campsite and offered our family a bed if we needed. Like I said, we counted this as a successful camping trip.
Our next camping trip was to be the big birthday trip. This time we were camping at Fort Ridgely State Park which is a more remote location. The nearest town larger than a postage stamp is about 30 minutes away.
The weather forecast was perfect and everyone was looking forward to camping. When we arrived at our campsite celebrations began. The mosquitoes immediately began feasting in droves, reminding me that we forgot to bring bug spray. We decided that we would survive the mosquitoes as long as we got our tent set up. So Easton and I started setting up the tent as the others finished unpacking our van. He and I made quick work getting the tent up and the other kids brought their sleeping bags in.
As I began to zip the tent door closed in an attempt to keep the skeeters out, the zipper broke. By this point, all seven of us had become an all-you-can-eat buffet for the mosquitoes and I was feeling a little distraught. This trip was on a very slippery downhill slope. My husband calmly suggested that we get back in the van and head to the nearest town that might have tents for sale.
We were able to find a big box store a mere 40 miles away and I was able to buy the very last tent big enough to hold our family — and as much bug spray as I could find. Once back at our campsite, we all bathed in bug spray and quickly disassembled the old tent. The kids built us a nice fire while Karl and I very easily put up the new tent which we discovered was equipped with built-in LED lights.
After an exquisite meal of hot dogs and chips and a short hike, we were nearly ready to retire to the tent for the night. It was already dark outside when I took our six-year-old son Jonny into the tent to help him put his jammies on. Remembering the lights, I turned them on. Much to Jonny’s surprise, he quickly looked around with eyes as big as saucers, stuttered a few noncommunicable syllables, placed his fingers on his temples and yelled, “BOOM! MIND BLOWN!” He could not believe his eyes, the tent had lights! I couldn’t help but chuckle at his innocent and utter excitement over simple LED lights. It was truly delightful.
Later on, after everyone was in the tent, we decided to tell stories to help the littlest ones fall asleep. I went first, telling a tall tale of a monkey who gets caught up with some bandits on his way out West during the gold rush. It had a very dramatic ending with the monkey getting tied up and placed on the railroad tracks — but that’s a story for another time.
My girls teamed up to tell the next story.
Cora, our 7 year old daughter, is the most makeup-loving, glittery, everything pink and frilly, girly girl on the planet. She started on a story where a werewolf was the villain. Cora and Abby tag-teamed their story with each part getting more and more dramatic. During their story, there was a sudden turn of events and the villainous werewolf barged in. According to Cora, “the werewolf had SPLIT ENDS!” To which Abby exclaimed, “Oh no! Not split ends!” We all burst out laughing at the horrifying thought of split ends!
Once the girls finished their story, the kids quieted down and drifted off to sleep, all sleeping soundly through the night. Karl and I, on the other hand, proceeded to freeze the entire night. Neither he nor I got much in the way of sleep that night.
Early the next morning, the kids woke with the sun. The mosquitoes were still incessant and began driving us completely mad. A cold night with little sleep plus mosquitoes make very lousy parents out of Karl and I. We decided to cut the trip short, pack up, and go home. So as to not disappoint our birthday boy, the tent was again erected in the yard where the kids spent the night with Mom and Dad only a few short steps away in the house.
I do not foresee our family becoming hard core campers. I very much enjoy warm running water, my own bed, and modern things like microwaves and flushing toilets. Although our birthday camping trip was a bit of a flop, we came home with funny memories that will not soon be forgotten … and BOOM! A mind-blowing light-up tent.
Whitney Nesse is a sixth-generation livestock farmer who is deeply rooted in her faith and family. She writes from her central Minnesota farm.