When my first son was eighteen months old we decided to take him camping. Camping was something my wife and I loved to do and we wanted our son to experience the fun. As first time parents we were a nervous wreck. Camp fires are one of the best parts of the camping experience, but with an eighteen month old running around they are a source of great fear. With two parents and only one child we were able to safely contain him and had a ton of fun. When our second son was eighteen months and our first was four we braved it again. Again we were terrified of having a fire, so we limited it to minimal time, but we survived and had a blast.
When our third son was born we couldn’t bring ourselves to get back out to the campground. When it was a 2-1 and even 1-1 ratio we felt we were still in control, but being outnumbered by little ones was just a bit overwhelming. Just when we thought we were getting to a point where we could take three, our daughter was born and the parent-kid ration of 1-2 sealed the deal, we would be sitting out the camping scene. Of course we couldn’t stay away forever. My wife and I were convinced by some friends we needed to get together and go camping this summer. Knowing it had been over four years since our last trip, we decided to do a test run of just our family so we knew what we were getting into.
We jammed the van full of our gear and other things, trust me there was not an inch of unused space in the van. Picking the camp site was the first challenge. There were many strong opinions about which site was the best and the kids kept saying “just a pick a site as long as it is mine.” We chose the site and the phase II of fun began. Kids love helping, and our two and four year olds helped with great fervor get the tent up. After a lot of re-setting up poles the tents were finally standing so we took a family bike ride. The great thing about camping is there really is nothing you have to do, you just hang out. The moment of truth came when we lit the fire to get ready for dinner. My wife was a nervous wreck, but the kids for the most part stayed behind the circle of chairs we had created as a barrier. We cooked dinner, made smores and other camping treats and just relaxed as a family, well at least as much as you can relax with little ones in the forest.
Bed time came and my two oldest boys climbed into their tent. We laid the two little ones down on either side of us in our tent and turned out the lights. The forest was nice and silent. “DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADDDYY!!!!” came the blood curdling screen that woke me from my sleep. My eyes couldn’t focus and it was pitch black, I couldn’t figure out where I was. Then I remembered I was camping and my wife was telling me the boys needed help and to hurry. I stumbled to the front of the tent, got my shoes on while opening the tent and saw my boys flashlights on in their tent. “What’s wrong” I called over to them. “A raccoon is attacking our tent!” they called back. While this exchange was going I was climbing out of the tent, and lost my footing. I crashed into the tree in front of our tent getting a nice cut on my knee and scraping up my arm. I circled their tent with a flash light and didn’t see any animals, but that was no comfort to my sons.
After moving them and their gear over to our tent, we all finally settled down and my wife and I had a good silent chuckle. In the morning after everyone was awake, my sons recounted their harrowing tale. We inspected the tent and found a bunch of small muddy footprints on the back and one side of the tent. A raccoon had pawed at the tent. My sons had seen an episode of “iCarly” where the older brother went looking for a beavcoon (part beaver, part raccoon) and swore it was that which tried to get them. For the rest of the day until we left to go home, every time they heard an animal making sound all four kids would shout out “BEAVCOON!” Amazingly they all are ready to go camping again, but said they will sleep with mom and dad next time. I am sure when they have grown and have their own children the story of the beavcoon will be recounted, with many more harrowing details of course.