I’m not great at camping. To be honest, I’m not even good at camping.
I’m less about the back-to-nature and more about the if-I’m-paying-to-go-on-holiday-then-I’d-at-least-like-some-proper-walls. My parents recently spent four days in a tent on the edge of a Welsh cliff during gale force winds and rainstorms. When they returned, Mum said, “you know what, I like camping.” It’s possible that I was adopted.
In my defence, I’ve had some bad camping experiences.
I’ve scooped water out of my tent with a mug. Whilst we were still putting it up. I’ve stayed awake all night, clinging on to the tent poles to prevent it flying away.
I’ve watched my food float down an impromptu river in the middle of the campsite. I’ve woken up in the morning in a puddle, to discover that every tent except ours had been evacuated in the night due to a torrential storm.
I’ve even wound up in an ambulance after having a panic attack midway through a camping trip. With a couple of terrified friends, pins and needles all over my body, and an oxygen mask that refused to do its job.
I think the real problem is camping in England. It’s cold. Even in the summer. And it rains. Even in the summer.
I’ve managed one night in a tent since having the children. This photograph was taken the morning after.
I love how happy we look. And how you totally can’t tell that I’d been awake all night because the temperature was zero degrees and I’d spent the entire time checking that my babies weren’t freezing to death in their sleep. Take it from me, sometimes the camera really does lie.
It was supposed to be a three day camping trip. By the second night we were back in our own beds. With a roof. And actual walls. All mod cons.
Ironically, I genuinely love the idea of tents. Of waking up in the morning and wandering out in the dew. Of the children frolicking in the grass. Going to bed when it gets dark and waking up with the sun. It sounds idyllic.
Unfortunately, in reality all your clothes are damp, it’s beyond cold, you didn’t get to sleep until 2am because you could hear every word of the neighbouring tent’s wild party, and the toilets are horrid. Not my idea of fun.
Bearing that in mind, you would think that, as I booked us in for church camp this year, I would have taken a long hard look at myself and realised that I was never going to survive two nights in a tent. That perhaps I should just book myself in as a day visitor. Own my character traits and go with it. Live according to my real, genuine self, and not who I think I should be.
Turns out I’m still learning. Which is why, after a week of stressing, frantic packing, pointless tearful arguments with Wes and several meltdowns with the children, I found myself on the floor of our tent, at 9pm on the first night of camp, full on ugly-crying like the world was about to end.
Told you. I’m really bad at camping.
Wes took me home. Straight away. I put myself to bed, and didn’t get dressed again until two days later. I was mostly sleeping and staring into space. Trying to figure out what had just happened. How I’d managed to break down so very spectactularly.
In fairness, it wasn’t just the tent. I’d been heading for a crash for a while. Life under canvas was just the final straw. That and the rain. And the suddenly incontinent child.
Either way, I spent the weekend in a haze of guilt. For letting everyone down. For leaving Wes with the children. Who were obviously now scarred for life by my tears. For being so needy, in such a noticeable way. For not being able to cope with one stupid little camping trip.
The kids had a great time. So did Wes. Face painting and puddle splashing and tractor rides. With their very best friends. I got the rest, and the sleep, and the uninterrupted peace that I so desperately needed.
Still, it took me almost a week to realise that maybe, just maybe, I hadn’t actually failed.
A few days after camp I got a message from a dear, dear friend. Telling me how proud she was of me for leaving the field that evening. For going home and being where I needed to be. For throwing my hands up and admitting that I just couldn’t cope.
She talked about my decision with words like freedom and wisdom. As though I wasn’t just escaping from a difficult situation, but consciously making a choice to be somewhere helpful.
At the time, in that tent, on that Friday night, as my children refused to go to sleep and every inch of me felt cold and damp, I didn’t think there was a choice. Wes wanted to take me home, and so I went.
But I could have stayed. I could have stuck it out.
That’s my default. Fight. Don’t give up. Don’t let the side down.
Stay in the field.
It would have been a disaster. I would have gotten colder, and damper, and grumpier as the weekend wore on. I would have shouted at the children. A lot. I would have been short with my friends. Resentful of my husband. And for what?
To be able to say I’d made it through. To martyr my way through yet another situation I didn’t feel able to handle. To earn another badge for my Supermummy sash.
Some things are worth fighting for. Marriages. Family. Mental health. Vocations. Community. Dignity.
I’m coming to the conclusion that there’s only one way to fight for the big things. By not wasting your strength on the little ones.
I can’t do everything. Nobody can. It’s time to stop pretending that it’s even a possibility.
I’m determined to embrace my real self. To get to know the woman that I actually am. I think I’m going to like her.
Next year, when church camp rolls around, I’ll be a day visitor.
And I’ll leave that field each evening with my head held high. Almost as high as my umbrella.