Tent sizing is one of the great mysteries of humankind. Until last year, our family used what was designated a “6-person” tent. I recall sleeping in there with Liz and the two kids and wondering where the other two people would have gone, short of velcroing their sleeping bags to the tent ceiling.
This is on my mind because we just concluded our annual Father’s Day camping trip with our church friends. (Church friends, for the uninitiated, are the same as normal camping friends, in that we eat too much bratwurst and we can’t get melted marshmallow out of our kids’ hair.) And prior to the trip, I upgraded our family to a nine-person tent.
A nine-person tent! Have you ever even been in a house overnight with nine people? It feels like a Karachi bus station. This is a tent. This is stretched nylon. Nine people?
I investigated the diagram of this nine person tent I bought, because the unit of “person” as a measurement is, if you think about it, sort of odd. It turns out the tent makers actually show you what they mean when they say it can fit nine people. It looks like this, per the screenshot I took:
Which begs the obvious question: Who is camping like this? It looks like a cold storage container in Westworld. Who’s that dude sleeping at the top? You wanna be that dude? You roll on your side and you’re suffocating, like, six tent-mates.
Who (I might ask the manufacturer of this nine-person tent) is going out into the wilderness with eight other compatriots and bringing a single tent? I remind you that you can buy this tent at Costco. Costco shoppers aren’t exactly buying these things to traverse the Klondike. Maybe it’s just a Costco thing? Maybe they’re also selling nine-person granola bars that everyone eats together, sitting in an awkward rectangle?
I can only guess that “person” is a rough and ridiculous unit of measurement, like the way the British still use “stone” to weigh themselves (I weigh about eleven and a half stone. I’m serious.). All I know is that this nine-person tent was comfortable for four of us. We slept, and there were no skunks this year (longer story, that one).
Father’s Day Camping is generally the only camping we do all year. For the limited experience we have, Liz and I like camping. But Finn and Lucy– they LOVE camping.
They ride their bikes and they run around and shoot water guns and eat s’mores and sleep in a tent. What’s not to love about that?
But I think they especially love a couple of other things.
Our kids have their parents’ full attention for a weekend. That’s no small thing, as I know I can be distracted around my kids. (I’m working on that.)
Camping is also just so different from our normal life that it becomes an incredibly memorable day that they can look back on and write stories about and draw pictures inspired by the weekend. I’ve seen my kids bring home little stapled-together books from school called “My Camping Trip” and on each page is a different picture they drew of something they did with two sentences on why it was so fun.
It’s beautiful. It makes me want to pour far more of my attention into making weekends special for them.
But there is something else that our kids deeply love about camping: They love the tent. They love their sleeping bags. They love carving their own space out of nature.
Kids in general seem to love making or building or finding their own space. You could decorate their room like something out of Architectural Digest and they’ll still make a fort out of old blankets and pillows. They’ll still, in the middle of that grandeur, sneak into big cardboard box and cut little windows to peek out of. They’ll crawl under tables at dinner and bring stuffed animals into their closets with them to cozy up in there.
Our kids want something truly theirs. Everything in their life is sort of gray area. Their parents have bought them everything they have, in one way or another.
The funny thing about it is that they don’t want the whole house to themselves. They actually want a small space, like that Betta fish Finn has. They gravitate to those small areas, maybe because can control everything around them.
They love camping because they loved playing out in the big new world. They loved it so much last weekend that they didn’t want to go to sleep at night. There was a loop they could bike around, and they wore those glowing necklaces and bracelets, so Liz and I could see them whizzing around in the dark, like little UFO’s buzzing a control tower.
When they finally ran out of energy, they got back in the tent, into their sleeping bag, inside of which they had any number of stuffed animals and other things that made the space completely theirs, their happiness measured by the number of songs they sang before they drifted off.
That’s what I want to give them. I want to give my kids the wide world. And I want to give them their own space.
The harder part for me was that for both those things, the world and their space, I had to let them go. I had to stand there and pray they wouldn’t crash on their bikes in the dark. I had to lie there, wishing they wanted to curl up with me instead of in their own corner.
Camping feels like practice for the real world for them, like lion cubs practicing taking down prey as they wrestle each other.
Camping with the kids was sweet and beautiful. It was also a heart-wrenching reminder that, soon, they won’t need those small spaces anymore, because they will be out in the world, alone, making it their own.
Which reminds me! I forgot to tell you about all the stuff I tripped over.
Top Five Things I’ve Tripped Over While Camping.
- Bottom of tent door.
I’m paranoid about letting bugs into the tent so I only open the tent, like, six inches and squeeze myself out like toothpaste. I must have some kind of mongoloid foot though because it always gets caught and I always fall and Liz always asks why I don’t unzip the tent more. (“Bugs!” I shout-whisper back.)
- A bike.
I don’t usually just walk into parked bikes. But it was the middle of the night and I had to get up to answer the call of nature and I just ran into it. In the silence of a campgrounds it sounded like somebody had tossed a bag of lit firecrackers into an empty dumpster.
Last year Liz was traveling over Father’s Day for work and it was just me and the kids. I was trying to get out of the tent and I tripped over a sleeping Finn. Which is notable because Finn didn’t start off sleeping anywhere near the tent door but rather on the opposite side of the tent. He must have inchwormed his way in the night. And as usual he didn’t wake up. You could strap a parachute to his back while he slept and throw him out a plane and he would swing softly to the ground, still snoring.
- A greased up skateboard.
I assume it was greased up. Our first year camping, two years ago, a kid named Carter brought a skateboard. I wasn’t stupid enough to try to ride it, all I was trying to do was scoot it back to him with my foot, and next thing you know I’m weightless and staring at the sky and then hitting the ground and the skateboard has shot forward as if fired from a cannon. I don’t know what happened there.
- A bear.
I’m not even joking. Not at this campsite, though – this was at Yosemite in California, in my mid-twenties. Walking to the bathroom, I thought it was a boulder. Then it moved and I almost threw up with panic.
There were no bears at Rocky Neck State Park in Connecticut. No doubt it would make the kids all the more eager to get there. For now we’ll sleep in our normal boring beds and normal boring rooms and see if we can create memories that involve indoor plumbing.