Camping lessons: when work feels like fun

I wrote this post around this time last year, and it came to mind over the weekend, when our two-day camping trip – which was mostly fun, but yes, also stressful – ended in a downpour on Saturday evening, with the grown-ups frantically running all over the site to put things away while the kids climbed all over each other and whined in the car.

It got me thinking about how the idea of “effort” and “hassle” are so relative. That sometimes things feel hard when really, they’re just messy or take some practice. And that sometimes things that really are kind of hard seem easy, because you really want to do them.

One of our favorite things to do in the summer is to go camping. A few weeks ago we took our first trip of the summer, grabbing a site in the “rustic” area of the campground where the only bathroom facility was an outdoor john that didn’t have a light or a sink or a mirror or, for that matter, air fresheners (gag).

As the evening cooled off, I wanted to get Clara and I dressed in warm PJ’s. The boys were dressing in the tent, so she and I retreated to the car to get dressed. Since it was still light out, I had to duck down to keep people from being able to see me changing in the car. Scrunched down in the back, wedged between two car seats, I contorted my body, pulling on long pants and socks and a new shirt as Clara crawled all over me.

At some point the ridiculousness of it struck me: at home, I’d be seriously annoyed if I had to go out to the car to get dressed. But while camping, something that would feel like a hassle in normal life, like walking 500 feet in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, just feels like part of the deal.

If you think about it, camping, especially camping with kids, is a lot of work. The preparation, the set-up, pitching the tent, making sure to keep the door firmly shut so that you don’t stay up all night because of mosquitoes buzzing in your ear, building a fire, cooking over said fire, dealing with trash so that you aren’t visited by raccoons in the middle of the night, taking everything down again before you go home…it’s pretty much all hassle and effort.

But somehow, I don’t notice how much work it is when I’m camping. I guess that’s because in my head, camping is filed under “fun”, while day to day life is filed under “real life” and therefore all that effort seems to add up and make everything feel a lot harder than it really is.

I’m trying to remind myself that sometimes, embracing and enjoying ‘hard’ things is just a matter of flipping that mental switch. Taking pleasure in the smooth calm of a just-made bed, feeling the clasp of a toddler’s hand in yours as you take an impossibly slow walk to the ice-cream shop (yes, it would be faster and “easier” to drive, but at what cost?), breaking out the board game or paints – again – even though, yes, in a half-hour you’re going to have yet another mess to clean up. As a mom, I’m all about taking the easy way out. But you don’t always have to avoid things that feel “hard” in order to make life feel “easier.”

Sometimes, it’s a matter of telling yourself, “This:

  • is important to me
  • sounds like fun
  • would make the kids really happy,

so I’m going to try it even though:

  • I don’t know what I’m doing
  • It’ll mess up my house
  • It’ll take a long time
  • I might not finish

Because I’ve found that sometimes the stuff that’s the most time-consuming and the biggest hassle in the beginning turns out to be the most rewarding in the end.

Like camping. Or canning. Or motherhood, yes?

What things do you enjoy even though they are a lot of work?

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