The Ten Commandments of Camping (Children's Edition)

We have just returned from a ten-day camping trip, brimming with gratitude for the comforts of home. I am not a novice camper. My husband and I once camped across the country for forty five days with nothing but a Jeep Wrangler, a tent and, in retrospect, what must have been an inexhaustible supply of energy.

I am also fairly experienced at roughing it with children. When Owen was a toddler, we carted him cheerfully about from Crater Lake to Yosemite, Glacier and the Tetons. I have pictures of me changing his little naked, poopy butt in the hollow of an enormous grove of redwoods. But it's been awhile since we've braved the difficulties of the wilderness and our family has grown. And while I was on this trip, I rediscovered some unpleasant realities that I'd forgotten or minimized through the haze of nostalgia.


The first is this- ten days is much too long to spend in the woods with my darling family. I love them. But ten days without indoor plumbing and the grace of walls to separate us is insanity. INSANITY.

An extended weekend perhaps even stretching to a week is unpleasant but endurable. Assuming you can muster through ten days straight of camping with a preschooler is hubris. It's a level of parenting patience and mastery I have zero interest in unlocking.

It occurred to me I might save some other poor soul out there the folly of committing such a terrific mistake by publishing the ten commandments of camping with children, such as I learned them earlier this month. In no particular order, here they are:


Thou shalt not make direct eye contact nor engage in any conversation about what is at the bottom of the pit toilet, not matter how many fascinated, peering looks your preschooler may indulge in.


Thou shalt not expect any more than four or five hours of achy, interrupted sleep when all four members of your family are encased in a 12x8 box of netting, noisy fabric and swaying metal poles.


Thou shalt not attempt to scrub, clean or remove any unwanted dirt from either the faces or hands of your children. This is special magic camping dust. It is designed to cling with a permanency no mere sinful mortal could ever obliterate.



Thou shalt be prepared for showers to become the most miserable half hour of your life, when the preschooler suddenly decides having to wear flipflops in the shower is the worst insult to her humanity she has ever encountered.


Thou shalt bring the largest bottle of hand sanitizer you can find and more baby wipes than you might use in an entire year. You will need them. You will be eternally grateful for them.


Thou shalt not covet your neighbor's RV, even when the sweltering sunshine has made you resort to driving to see every rural public space with the word museum in it.


Thou shalt not pass a park or community playground without stopping and tumbling out of your vehicle like thirsty desert wanderers toward an oasis.



Thou shalt banish from your mind every news story you have ever read about parasites of the flesh eating order that reside in fresh water lakes and streams. Thou shalt also forget the recent scientific blog post about the content of pee in public swimming pools that went viral. Close your mind, my child.


Thou shalt expect that no matter how much clothing you pack or how long you are away, the children will run out of clean underwear before the end of the trip. This is the law of nature. We must acknowledge its force in our lives.


Thou shalt not fail to bring copious amounts of coffee. For verily I say unto you, he who does not have enough caffeine will not survive to see the second camping.


Despite having failed to follow through on some of these commandments, we all not only survived but mostly enjoyed our wilderness adventures. I will say that in addition to teaching children to appreciate nature, I think camping does a far more important service in the development of little brains and beings. I think it teaches them by example that, in an age of consumption and monetary concern, you still don't need much to live life well and be happy. And that's an invaluable realization to give to our children.

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