This past weekend we went on our first camping trip for 2016 – with our 2 1/2 year old toddler.

We don’t do RV or camper van style camping, we do the full tent and cooking over an open flame style camping.  This wasn’t her first camping trip.  We actually took her for the first time last September, and she LOVED it.  She was so excited to sleep in the tent she wanted to go to bed at 3pm in the afternoon.  She sat by the campfire and sang Baa Baa Black Sheep to herself, then she took the flashlight into the tent and continued to sing and chatter to herself until she just fell asleep. It was a wonderful experience, so of course we figured we should do more this year.

We started talking about our upcoming one night camping adventure at the beginning of the week.  She would get really excited asking about the tent and the sleeping bags, and of course the excitement of marshmallows.  It was THE topic of conversation for the week.  As we went about our Saturday morning getting things ready she would continually tell me she was ready to go camping.  We sat and read her “Dora the Explorer Goes Camping” book.  Needless to say this little girl was ready to camp!

Knowing that the previous, and only, time she had been camping had been many months earlier we decided to start small for the year.  We picked a campground in the Columbia River Gorge, only about 30 minutes from our home, and we only planned to camp for one night.

Things started well when we arrived.  She had fun walking to and from the car with us as we unloaded everything.  There was a small bridge on the path right before we reached our campsite, she loved running across it fast to be sure no trolls could get her.  The tent and campsite set up all went great.  We were off to a perfect start!  The campground even had a small playground!  (To the genius who designed campgrounds in Oregon including a playground, I love you!  You must have been a parent.)

 Things got a little dicey when it came time to start our campfire to cook dinner.  Needless to say, we are not survival experts, and it took quite some time to get a good fire going.  All of you parents out there know, patience is not a virtue of toddlers.  The delay in dinner started the path towards a cranky little girl.  But once we got the fire going, dinner cooked quickly and all was right with the world – for a minute or two at least.  After dinner we had to wash the dishes, and it was around this point in time, as the sun was getting really low that things went really down hill.  After the dishes were washed a meltdown began.  Suddenly she wanted to go back to the car, she wanted to go home, she didn’t want to sleep in the tent, she didn’t want marshmallows.  She was done with camping.

I’ll be honest, once she was in full meltdown mode with the tears and the screaming I actually did contemplate whether we should just pack everything back up and head home.  I couldn’t decide what would be easier, calming her tantrum or packing up a whole campsite in the dark.

Finally, I realized I might have a solution.  I had enough signal on my phone to open up YouTube and pull up an episode of Dora for her – THANK YOU DORA!  Tears stopped almost immediately.  We settled down in the tent, and by the glow of my phone and the soothing sound of “I’m the map, I’m the map” she changed her clothes and snuggled into a sleeping bag.  But dear lord, every time the video paused to buffer I had to hold my breath lest the spell be broken and the tantrum return.  Thankfully, though, we were OK.  I don’t even want to know how much data I used streaming for almost an hour, but it was worth every megabyte.  Before long we were able to turn off the phone and the flashlight and she was immediately asleep for the rest of the night.

The next morning we woke to a shining sun and comfortable temperatures.  She was a smiley and giggle-y little girl.  We got our breakfast fire started immediately and enjoyed campfire pancakes and sausage.  We packed up our gear and headed out for a hike on the Washington side of the Columbia River.  We enjoyed a beautiful day outside as a family.

We have a goal as parents to teach our daughter to enjoy the outdoors.  We want her to appreciate the nature around her and to understand that we need to treat the environment with respect and protect it.  We want her to know how good it feels to be active and to be outside.  We want her to enjoy sitting in the grass to eat a picnic lunch as she looks out across a meadow with mountain views sprawled before her.  We want her to understand that the world is a big, beautiful place, and she is a part of it.  We want all of this for her, which is why we go through the effort to take a toddler camping, but you better believe, next time we will come prepared with Dora already downloaded and ready to go if we need it!