The rain started at midnight, a light pitter-patter on the tent. If I hadn’t been trying to cuddle a squirmy two-year-old who was both cold and averse to sleeping bags, I might have enjoyed the steady sound of raindrops. Instead I shoved over on my small thermarest to make room for Silas. It had already been a long night. The weather promised to make it even longer.
There are things you tell yourself when you become a parent, and one of them is that you are not going to let this new life with kids take over your old one. Delusional thinking? Of course. But essential. It is this denial that has kept me skiing, biking, and camping for the past five years, despite giving birth to two boys and enduring that painful learning curve known as “parenthood.”
Which is how I came to be sitting in the bow of a canoe the day before the torrential downpour holding a screaming Silas (oh the indignities of an infant life jacket!) while Jeff and four-year-old, Henry, took up the rear. We were in Grand Teton National Park paddling to a backcountry campsite on Leigh Lake with family friends we’ve known forever (that is, since before having kids). Our plan was to spend three days out in the wild.
We could have hiked to our site—it was only two miles from the parking lot—but what fun would that be? Besides, backcountry camping with the under-five set requires almost as much stuff as car camping, and hauling in our heavy load by boat sounded a lot more gentle on our bodies. The weather looked spotty, but we read the forecast optimistically. Twenty percent chance of showers meant eighty percent chance of sun, right?
The paddle into the site took about an hour and a half, and the cloud cover dropped precipitously while the wind picked up, en route. We had just enough time to set up camp and hunker down in tents when the first storm came.
Once it blew over, the kids stormed the beach, pretending the canoe paddles were spatulas for pizza ovens and the sand was the pizza. As they served us our “snacks,” the grown-ups gawked at beautiful Mount Moran and the white caps forming on the lake. The skies stayed gray, but the rain held off, and we managed to get in a campfire, s’mores, and a few nips from the whiskey flask (kids got hot cocoa).
Then we went to bed and then, well, you know what happened next. Or maybe you don’t. Let’s just say we hit a low point at 2 a.m., when Silas insisted on accompanying me outside to answer nature’s call. As I squatted in the torrential downpour, he held my hand and sobbed for me to pick him up.
At 9 a.m., the rain was still coming down in sheets. Both families gathered in one tent and had a “healthy” breakfast of M&Ms, breakfast bars, fruit leathers, and nut butter packets. A brave grown up escaped the chaos volunteered to fire up the stove outside for hot drinks, and we didn’t see him again for about an hour.
By 10:30, my friend Maggie and I decided it was time to bail. Puddles were forming beneath the tent floor, and we’d run out of warm, dry clothes to throw on the kids. It was a wise choice, but we made a critical mistake: We announced our plans to the little monkeys.
To say they were disappointed is an understatement. Within minutes, the kids had organized and were heckling us as we broke down camp. “STAY TILL MONDAY!” they yelled at the top of their lungs as they stomped through puddles and mined more candy from the gorp bag.
Fortunately parenting is not a democracy.
As the storm gained steam, we shoved our wet gear into the canoes and pushed off. Silas, the two-year-old, squirmed until he suddenly fell asleep, a state he stayed in for the next two hours, even after we reached the shore by the parking lot. Henry paddled with his dad, and in the other canoe, Maggie and her daughter, Mairi, navigated the waters. (Maggie’s husband, Brian, left the night before when their toddler son, Andy, developed a nasty resperitory infection.)
Despite Brian and Andy’s evacuation and the premature departure, the trip was a success. For one, we left those kids wanting more.
And we also proved something to ourselves: It’s easy (easier?) to camp with kids when the weather’s good; it’s altogether different when things don’t go according to plan. To thrive even in the inclement weather was a solid affirmation to keep on getting out there, even though it’s hard to deny how much the kids HAVE changed our lifestyle.
Of course they have. But this recent trip proved, once more, they’ve changed it for the better.