by Mike Todd
Until the moment when our five-year-old son Evan wailed that he’d accidentally killed our dog, the camping expedition had been a great success.
Our original intention had been to go camping at a public campground about 20 minutes from our house, because our lives were not difficult enough already. Our youngest son, Zack, finally started sleeping through the night shortly after his second birthday a couple of months ago, so we were on the lookout for some fresh new hardship to endure.
“Let’s take the kids camping!” my wife Kara said, excited about the prospect of giving our children the classic Norman Rockwell experience of tormenting their parents in the woods.
“That’s a great idea. Let’s go this weekend!” I replied, ignoring everything I’d ever learned about life and parenthood.
So we made grand plans. I pulled the big tent out of the closet under the stairs. We gathered the sleeping bags and portable crib. We picked up marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers. Then we started thinking about what we were doing.
“You know, if this goes south, we’re in for a long night,” I said.
“I just checked. The campground has a two-night minimum. This is starting to sound like a commitment,” Kara said.
We’d already sold the kids on the idea, though, so we couldn’t retreat without taking casualties. “You know what’d be even better than going to a campground? Setting the tent up in the backyard, like we’re having a big slumber party!” I said. Parenting involves a certain amount of salesmanship.
“Will there still be marshmallows?” Evan asked, and I realized that “quality family time” and “communing with nature” were a little further down his priority list, below each of the ingredients for s’mores.
So we pitched the tent, bought a fire pit and had a campfire in our backyard, living just like frontiersmen, with most conveniences more than 10 feet away. Like a modern-day Daniel Boone, my Wi-Fi signal was perceptibly weaker that far from the router.
While Evan fixated on cooking marshmallows, Zack wandered around the fire pit, trying to figure out how he could most efficiently cook Zack roast, barbecued Zack or Zack flambé.
“Look, buddy, your very own little camp chair!” Kara said, directing Zack to sit down.
He did sit down, and as Kara helped Evan brown his marshmallow to perfection, it was a wonderful family moment.
Then, as Evan assembled his very first campfire s’more, Zack dumped over sideways in his chair, shrieking. In the excitement, our dog Memphis sensed a window of opportunity, quietly tugging the s’more out of Evan’s hand and wandering off to enjoy it.
“My s’more!” Evan wailed as we righted Zack’s chair.
Zack, now upright, wailed in unison with Evan. Kara and I looked at each other, relieved that we’d kept this show off the road.
“Dogs can’t eat chocolate! It’s poison! It’s going to kill her!” Evan wailed. We were touched that he felt any sympathy for the thief who’d just eaten his entire reason for camping.
“Well, that’s called karma,” I replied. The dog, for her part, did not pretend to be nearly repentant enough.
“Babe, not helpful,” Kara said, assuring Evan that Memphis would be fine as she loaded his stick with another marshmallow.
Shortly thereafter, we noticed that we were offering up our sons as sacrifices to the mosquitoes.
“Are we really going to sleep outside tonight? We can’t go to bed yet, and the bugs are out in full force,” Kara said, smacking her arm.
“The kids could always play in the tent tomorrow. That’d be fun,” I replied.
In the end, the boys deemed our camping expedition to be a great success. Maybe next time, we’ll actually sleep outside.