Every year our family has a huge camping trip. We've been doing it for at least 15 years, if not longer. We all (or whomever can come each year) meet at a campground somewhere in the PNW and spend 3-4 days eating, drinking, playing games and getting dirty. There's usually at least tiny bit of drama (it IS family, for crying out loud) and a LOT of laughter. Someone always gets hurt (usually, though not always the same sister) and there is always love.
Bringing our kids camping was always a no-brainer. Of COURSE my kids would camp, duh, it's a way of life. However the first year after Ruby was born, the CampMout (Mout is my maiden name) was just a few weeks after her (very hard and traumatic Cesarean) birth so camping wasn't on my radar. The next year was awesome, she was just starting to walk, and happy to get dirty and be passed from one family member to another. At 2 we again had a great time, throwing rocks in the water and eating by the river. The following year (age 3) was also fun although we were entrenched in sleep issues and were exhausted by the end of the weekend. The next two years we opted out of (usually at the last minute) because frankly, it was just too hard to do anything and we were barely keeping our heads above water. Last year we took the plunge and planned the trip, because it was close to home (90 min drive) and we knew the area well and loved it. I was pregnant with Lucy, and hopeful that we could at least enjoy one night in the woods.
When we arrived at camp, the whole crew was gathered around in camp chairs talking and as we drove up, they all called out excitedly to Ruby. AND SHE WAS DONE FOR. Her anxiety went immediately through the roof and she could NOT get out of the car. She was sweating, crying and begging to go home. We patiently waited with her, letting the family know that if she didn't calm down, we would in fact throw in the towel and go home. It took over an hour, a potty accident and much calming an coaxing for her to exit the car and crawl into the tent. We read books, played on the ipad and had dinner without even talking to any of the other family members. She was just too panicked. I assume it was the instant social pressure, the fact that the faces probably seemed unfamiliar so far away and that we were woefully underprepared for anxiety of that measure. Fortunately my family cleared out of the campsite we were setting up in and gave her wide berth to get her feet under her. Ultimately it was my brother in law and their dog who got her to crawl out of the tent and make contact. Still, the rest of that evening we waited with baited breath to see if she would drop back into that place of terror but she ate, and went to bed and slept like a rock.
In the morning she slowly ventured out and started carefully choosing which people she was comfortable enough to interact with. As the weekend went on, it was again the dog (Avery) who kept her happy, and running around the campground as often as possible. There were a few difficult meltdowns and a lot of fear of the porta potty (with success eventually). I wouldn't say it was a very relaxing weekend, as she needed a LOT of mama/papa intervention/guidance and a lot of help with communication.
Fast forward to this summer. We arrived at camp (the same place as last year) and pulled into the campsite and she was out of the car faster than anyone, ready to run off and tell Nana all about the tooth fairy coming to visit. She was instantly social, engaging everyone around her in conversation, and asking for the help she needed. A year ago she would've come calling for mama or daddy everytime she wanted more food, or help to go to the bathroom but this summer she was amazing and realized everyone was there to help her. She happily ran off to play with her cousins, aunts, uncles and extended family any time she was invited and sometimes when she wasn't. She engaged Kailie's boyfriend in all sorts of silly games and won his heart over completely (he admitted that normally he didn't like kids but he sure liked Ruby!) She fell several times, gettind scraped and bruised and battered, and she was brave and kept putting herself out there. She ate her meals with the family calmly sitting around the campfire. She roasted marshmallows and ate s'mores. She asked to go to bed when she was exhausted and woke happily in her sleeping bag.
She blew my mind at every turn. She even made woodland fairy creatures with Nana (my mom) and builty a fairy land (castle?) with Triston (Kailie's boyfriend). While we played Mexican train dominoes she even sat for part of the game and tried to help her Auntie Bug lose.
When it was time to go home, she happily said good bye to everyone saying "Thanks for coming out! See you next time!" and hugged and kissed (almost) everyone good bye. It was, quite frankly, a dream trip. I couldn't have asked for anything better. The second we pulled away from the campsite, my first thought was, "When can we do this again."
We're back in the game folks, and mama couldn't be happier.