Take Hank Camping, Check.

30th July 2009

I grew up camping — fresh-picked blackberries and cream, sodas chilling in the creek, bug bites so profuse that I looked infectious. I figured Hank would be a natural outdoorsman.

He was a champ for the five-hour drive, and happy enough through camp set up. I kneeled for a kiss when we’d finished pitching the tent. He took my face in his hands, cocked his little head, and said, “We can go home?”

I figured he’d come around once he’d spent some time in the dirt with all his older cousins, and he did. A little. Unfortunately, he grew increasingly upset when they took occasional bike rides and left him behind. His lip quivered, his eyes welled, “We can go home, pease? Pease?”

We cuddled him. He asked to go home. We tickled him. He suggested we play tickle in the car. We hung him upside down by his feet. He thought that might be more fun if we left and tried it someplace else. Someplace like our apartment. So we pulled out the big guns:

When we were done with the water fight, Hank looked around and gave an unhappy sigh. We scooped him up and took him to the river where he was content to throw rocks for a couple hours. Then his cousin caught a fish. Oh dear. Hank examined the fish, touched it, and said, “Now that fishy go swim again,” and pointed to the water. Uhhh. I distracted him from the concept of death by making high-pitched noises and unattractive goofy faces while we exited the scene, but when he realized we were no longer by the water?

“We go home now. Now. Nooooow. NOOOOOOOW!”

We muddled through the day, but soon it began to dawn on him that there was no way to go inside when it got dark. His face twisted into a mask of such extreme toddler frustration, I’m certain he would have cursed like a sailor in a tattoo parlor if he’d had any expletives at his disposal. Instead he cried for a while, and Bryan cuddled him to sleep in the tent.

The following day was much the same, with a slightly more dramatic bedtime scene. But Hank woke the second morning refreshed. Say! He had a great idea. How about we all get in the truck? From there we could go home! No? What are we doing now? Getting ready to go home, he hoped. Are we going there now? He would enjoy that.

After an hour or two of subtle coercion, Hank asked me to lift him into his car seat, and then simply refused to be moved. His forlorn toddler face said it all:

So instead of staying another day, we cut the kid a break and packed up the campsite. My sister assured me that this was a passing phase. Her kids didn’t like to camp at Hank’s age; toddlers like routine. Meanwhile, Hank perched in his car seat with a matchbox truck and his sippey cup for nearly two hours while we packed. I have never seen him display such patience with anything that wasn’t shaped like a TV.

So, I’m crossing “Take Hank Camping” off my Mighty Life List. Next I think we’ll all go out to sushi and then head to the Opera. I’ll let you know how that goes.

49 thoughts on “Take Hank Camping, Check.

  1. Chookooloonks

    Just so you know? That’s *exactly* how I would behave if my husband tried to take me camping.

    I believe I have found my soul mate in your son.

  2. Michelle

    Considering we’re supposed to be packing right now for a three day camping trip with the nearly four year old Princess…this was a timely read. The six year old is at the lake with his grandparents and counsins, so we’re a little nervous without him to keep his sister happy.

    I’ll state the obvious and tell you Hank is still adorable, and the photo of him in the carseat is priceless! Great post Maggie! Sorry the camping wasn’t up to expectations. But your sister is right, it’ll be more fun when he’s older.

  3. Miss Kris

    Aww. Hank is so sweet. Although now I realize that our experience taking our 2-year-old camping may not be common. He loved being outside the whole time and love going hiking. He didn’t sleep very well, but that happens whenever he sleeps somewhere other than his own bed.

  4. Toni

    Oh my. I think Hank’s comprehension of living things is quite amazing. Also, I love Hat Creek, it’s really quite lovely. I hope you had fun!

  5. Mau


    Ben always does that to us… He gets all excited because we are going somewhere and 2 minutes after we are there…

    “Go home, prrrreeeeease, go brue house, prrrrreeeeeease.”

  6. Trevor

    I have quit reading your blog because it is now condensed in my reader instead of expanded as it used to be. Are the ads that important?

  7. robyn

    poor hank! i don’t think i ever went camping as a kid, and so i’m still stuck in that toddler phase myself. hopefully he’ll come around though – camping is truly so much fun!

  8. Sarah L.

    Poor forlorn Hank! This is such a beautifully written post, Maggie. Congratulations on working on your life list so exuberantly!

    Small aside, ever since I upgraded to the new Firefox (3.0.12), your website does not load properly. A lot of graphic elements are linear down the side of the page. (And as a previous commenter mentioned, I have to click over from my reader feed because it is now condensed instead of full. Eh.)

  9. Renee

    Don’t you love how honest kids are? They have no problem telling you what they want, what they don’t like and just how insane you are for thinking that camping or what not is fun.

  10. Accidental Olympian

    He’s a persistent little one! Lets be honest, even someone like me who LOVES to camp hated it at first. It takes some getting used to when you realize you’ll be living in a cloth makeshift home for a weekend without things like a bathroom down the hall. He’ll come around…

  11. Molly

    Last weekend Max and his dad spent the night in his grandparents’ front yard in a tent. He hasn’t stopped talking about it. We figure we can gradually move the tent further and further from a house without him noticing.

  12. Groovymarlin

    Awww, Hank is so cute. He seems so angelic. He can’t possibly be that angelic, for real, all the time. Can he?

    BTW for some reason your CSS doesn’t seem to be loading, so the site looks all unformatted. Kind of old-school really.

  13. Meg

    When I read this it was so comforting to know that my son is not the only toddler like that! It is so sweet and pathetic at the same time.

  14. Sara

    Oh Maggie, my 2-year-old makes that same sad face when he can’t go home from whatever silly adventure I’m trying to force on him.

  15. Maggeh Post author

    Hi Trevor,

    Just before the redesign, Google Reader started condensing posts of its own accord and I’m not sure how to make it stop. If anyone knows how to fix it, I’m all ears. I contacted my designer today to see if she can help. Sorry for the inconvenience, I know it’s irritating.


  16. norm

    Wow. Sorry you had a tough time. Camping with toddlers is rough enough when they’re willing and enthusiastic! Ours kept leaping up and running around the tent in the middle of the night.

    They slept through the bear attack on the truck however. I remember that part.

  17. jessica

    so funny! our boys are the same age and i applaud your attempt at camping right now. i think for sylas the day would be fine, but going to sleep in a tent….with us….not so fun. and boy do i know that look of his. family sushi, however, was a huge success, thanks to the melissa & doug sushi set and a board book that he’s had since birth. best of luck :)

  18. Sarafina

    Oh my, I took my little brother camping over spring break this year at a city park. The thing about this particular park is that they lock the gate at 11pm every night. Meaning that when my brother had a mental breakdown and insisted that we pack the entire campsite up and go home at around midnight, we couldn’t. So instead we drove back to our campsite and tried to sleep until they opened the gate back up at 7am. OY. I keep trying to convince him to give it another go, but no dice.

  19. Meg

    Hi Maggie,

    Our son is the same way. About birthday parties and loud parades and festivals, too. Some kids don’t grow out of it, and it’s a matter of coming to grips with it. I think you struck a nice balance of making him try it and cutting him a break. :)

  20. Mary Beth

    A great post! Thank you so much for putting into such thoughtful and clever words the experiences that I think many of us share. (I know that we have had occasions of similar woefulness!) Very sweet and funny!

  21. Sassafras Mama

    Such a lovely post, though I feel bad for enjoying a story about Hank’s woe. Good on you for trying it out. Glad for Hank that’s he’s back in the civilized world.

  22. Tracy

    What a fun story…but I too hope Hank will grow into it. We have three kids…ages 9, 7 and 5 and they LOVE camping. I’m sure the pop-up camper helps alot. We go annually on a fall “Halloween Camping” trip and it is one of the best events ever.

  23. Amy

    Awww. And thank you! I’ve been wanting to take our two-year-old camping, but this has made me think it’s a better idea to wait. It sounds like you guys handled it really well, but I can imagine a similar scene.

  24. Jenn

    I’m with you, Hank! The closest thing to camping that I tolerate is staying at the Holiday Inn. No sleeping on the ground for me. ick. My husband, tho, still wants to go on a family camping trip. I told him he has to wait until our kids are at least 5 and 6. There is no way I’m trying that with my 1 and 2 year olds!

  25. leta

    Awwwwww! We’re taking our first family camping trip this fall, but we’ll only be about 30 minutes from home so if all else fails we pack it in and head home, I guess.

  26. Up Mama's Wall

    We took our twin toddlers camping when they were one (for a magazine story that made the whole thing look like heaven) and it lives in family lore as the worst vacation ever. It was a real bubble burster. Now we’re waiting until they turn five and don’t eat so many pine cones.
    Hank is beautiful. So there’s that.

  27. A.

    At first, I was excited that we seem to have the same running stroller (B.O.B. Revolution, right? Mine is orange, too). This excitement quickly gave way to sympathy, since my toddler is prone to fits of stubbornness, too. I’m glad that leaving early was an option!

  28. Laura

    The first (and only) time I went camping, at the age of 27, I’m afraid I behaved not much differently than Hank did. Luckily, I had the advantage of calling a cab from the campsite pay phone to come get me and bring me back to Brooklyn.

  29. Alli

    hilarious! poor hank. i hate to admit it, but sleeping outdoors just isn’t my thing either.

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