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How to camp with a toddler

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Oh, last year. When our biggest camping issues were making sure Ezra didn’t poop on our sleeping bags and managing a little crying in the car. We were so innocent then.

We have now been camping with a toddler two whole times, and we have some updated advice.

Survive the first night
This happened two camping trips in a row. The first night was insane. Terrible. Up all night. On the first trip, Sandy ended up sleeping with Ezra in the car. On the second trip, I let him clamber all over me until he got so tired he fell asleep on my sleeping pad, leaving me to curl up on the Pack ‘n Play mattress we’d put on the floor, trying to steal some sleeping bag out from under him to keep warm.

On both trips, the second night was relatively peaceful. In fact, on our second trip, the second night brought an absolutely apocalyptic thunderstorm, complete with minute-long jags of lightning and wind blowing stakes out of our rain fly, and yet Ezra was utterly unfazed. He woke up for a moment, and before I even got up to get him out of his bed to comfort him, he looked around, considered the soothing pitter-patter of raindrops, and decided to ignore the thunder and lightning, lay back down, and fall asleep.

Keep your routines
When Ezra goes to sleep at home, I nurse him, read him a story, sing him a song, and then put him in the crib. Usually he goes right to sleep on his own, but sometimes he talks to himself for a while or cries briefly.

I tried to stick with this on the trip, even though it did mean listening to him cry for a while as we built the campfire. The night I decided to try instead to nurse him to sleep, something we don’t do anymore at home, it utterly backfired and ended up keeping him up for much longer.

Bring the Pack ‘n Play
(Note: We’re car campers, so we can haul this kind of stuff. I don’t have advice for people attempting to hike in with their baby and tent, but I’m sure it’s possible. Somehow.)

We tried a Peapod mini-tent, but the tent-within-a-tent effect magnified the heat and was unbearable for Ezra. Also, it was new and unfamiliar. The tried and true Pack ‘n Play was familiar, and had the added benefit of keeping Ezra off the wet tent floor on rainy nights.

Yes, this means we need a tent big enough to fit an entire girl scout troop.

Bring a clip-on high chair
We forgot this on our second camping trip, and I was frustrated trying to eat my own breakfast while holding a wiggly kid. Plus it’s a good vantage point where he can watch what’s going on without wandering into the fire pit.

DEET
This is one of the worst mosquito seasons in history, and we were besieged by them. Turns out, lots of babies don’t actually notice mosquito bites. Ezra never scratched his or seemed very bothered by them. But I felt calmer when he didn’t have bug all over his face (and it kept me from accidentally slapping him), and I also couldn’t function as well when I was covered in bites and miserably itchy. So slather the family in DEET. I used Cutter wipes on Ezra, which helped me avoid spraying his eyes.

Bring snacks
So many snacks. Especially if mama’s preggers. I did a much better job of this on our first trip than the second, and I paid the price. Bring tupperware full of peas and carrots, bring hummus, bring cottage cheese, bring PB&J fixings, bring fruit, bring bagels. In fact, if your timing turns out like ours — baby (and pregnant mom) need dinner at 6, but campfire building means the real dinner won’t be made until 8 — bring stuff that can work as a full meal.

Also, if you need to go to the Culver’s drive-through and get some chicken fingers on your way back to the campsite from the beach, you just go ahead and do that. Ahem.

Bring patient, childless friends
On our second trip, we were joined by four friends, who were good enough to pretend that they didn’t hear Ezra wailing in the middle of the night, willing to schedule the day around his naps, and happy to take him for walks or play with him to give us a little break. It was so very nice to have some extra hands.

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