Twas the night before camping, when all through the house Not a creature was stirring but the female spouse; The camping gear was stuffed in the van with care, In hopes that the family could survive out there!"
I grew up camping without running water or electricity. We would take baths in lakes, cook meals with cast iron, make a hole in a lawn chair for the potty, sing songs with the guitar, go fishing, hunt for earth worms at night, play flash light tag, and keep the raccoons and bears away. Looking back, those are some of my greatest memories of childhood! I LOVE camping. The greatest was taking the canoe out while the lake was still as glass and the occasional eagle soared above. What I do not remember is ALL the hard work my parents did to give my siblings and I these experiences.
It was the night before camping... and I just finished cooking the fifth and final meal. I precooked all of our meals and froze them to use as ice in our cooler. My checklist was complete. We were planning a camping trip that we could afford and would not cost us more than our regular week of groceries and expenses. This left little room for error or mishap. I had spent hours researching Padre Island to make sure that we would be prepared. We were going to go camping in Texas. On an island beach. With children.
We got out of the van after driving six hours and noticed our senses were pushed to the max. The sun was SO bright. We could literally taste the air because of the salt water. Our ears heard the drag and pull of the waves which sounds like an airplane overhead that never leaves. The wind carried along a mist of water that lightly covered us with a layer of dew. It was amazing. To see the world through the eyes of a child is a gift. We couldn't get to the ocean fast enough and quickly chose our camping spot right on the beach with nothing between us and the waves. The kids didn't even wait to put their swimsuits on before going into the water. The thrill! The excitement! My daughter kept on shouting, "Glory!" and I couldn't help but tear up from her joy proclaiming about God's creation at the top of her lungs. I didn't want to ruin the moment so we jumped over waves for the next hour while Frank - strong beefy husband - carried every bin and sand toy down from where the van was parked. Love that man. (pssst! It's our 7th wedding anniversary TODAY! Love you babe. :D)
Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. Psalm 148: 7-13
The tent and outdoor kitchen were set and we had worked up an appetite. The kids played in the sand quietly until "SQUAWK!" the laughing gulls began dodging for our dinner. There we were, a crazy woman and her kids chasing after the gulls. It's all about who's boss and claiming territory. We won. Tip: Don't holler and wave your arms... they think you are trying to feed them.
My daughter's hair was a nest of tangles filled with crusty sand. Since it was close to bed time it was time to rinse them off anyway. The showers were dark, made of cement slabs, had cold water and were very slippery. Don't get me wrong - I was thankful for them but the kids were not convinced. After what seemed like forever to persuade my 4 year old daughter into the water I picked her up and stood underneath with her. She kicked and screamed as I tried to wash her quickly but made it worse by getting soap in her eyes. Our 1.5 year old son was less than enthusiastic about his turn... before I even reached him the poor boy slipped backwards and smacked his head on the floor, HARD. You know, the kind of fall that makes that awful sound. I picked him up and was SO angry. I doubted our ability to make this trip work and still have fun. I was ready to tell the hubby that we should just pack up and go home NOW. I fought back several tears myself and wrapped us all up in a dry towel. I managed to keep my cool and sighed out my frustration. Finally, we got the kids dressed and each carried one on our backs into the tent to avoid getting sand on them again. whew!
Thankfully, the kids went to bed easily. Time to relax? Nope. The honey was turned upside down in our dry goods bin and got ALL over almost everything in it so we had to clean it out. Did I mention we were camping on a beach? Wherever there was honey there was sand stuck right to it - what a mess! It's true that sand was everywhere. Every nook and cranny. We only have a few pictures because a grain of sand got inside my camera and it would not turn back on. I tried my best to take in our surroundings as I couldn't rely on my camera anymore. We kept all the windows open in the tent as the most perfect breeze kept us cool and comfortable. Under the bright moon I saw little shadows moving across the sand... what were they from? Ghost crabs! They danced sideways. Frank helped me out of the tent and we walked along the beach with the lantern. We watched the ghost crabs dig and disappear back into their little holes of safety under the sand. Little did I know that these same crabs would be our camping demise in a few days.
Two days later we were back in the van but we were not headed home. We were going to visit Corpus Christi and take a break from the beach for the afternoon. Just as we were about to leave the island Frank mentioned, "Hey. By the way I saw some fire ants in our tent when I went back to grab my sunglasses. We'll have to make sure we get them out when we get back."
I knew we were done. If we didn't turn back and take care of them then our tent would have been swarmed with even more fire ants. It was time to surrender. Once fire ants are in your things there is no gauranteeing they are out and I could not imagine trying to sleep thinking about them biting us up. Even if there weren't any ants on me I would probably "feel" them just from thinking about them.
Frank dropped us off at the Vistor's Center and when he finished packing he shared his discovery. Turns out there was a line of fire ants entering our tent because there were two dead ghost crabs smashed under our tent. As Frank said those words my memory raced back to our first night on the beach sleeping... yes!... It was coming back to me... our first night I crawled across the floor to check on the kids in the dark and my knee "crrrunched" on something. Turns out the "crunch" was a ghost crab that had been scurrying underneath our tent. AAACK! The other one must have gotten rolled on when we were snoozing away! The realization of it all left us roaring in laughter!
As we drove off the island and headed back home I felt a certain level of disappointment. It was breathtaking camping on the beach. The memories will certainly give us laughs for years! Camping will test expectations but there is one thing that a person can control - their attitude. During our ride back we discussed how even though we would be back home we still wanted to keep the mindset that we were on vacation. After cleaning out the camping gear and the laundry we made forts in the living room, worked on a large puzzle as a family, played games, went to the Children's museum, painted ourselves blue and ate dinner for free at Blue Baker and tried our best to keep the spirit of adventure at home sweet home.
Would we do it again? Absolutely! And as our children grow up with their own camping memories of spending time together and overcoming obstacles I know we camped the way I hoped. Not perfect - but happy.