Tuesday, August 27, 2013

SMC Camping

A couple of weeks ago, Calliope and I went camping with my SMC friend Jen and her daughter Luna.

I've been wanting to take Calliope camping since long before she was conceived... but the realities of life with a toddler made me feel extremely intimidated by tent camping. But when another SMC friend mentioned cabin camping in state parks since her own childhood, I was inspired.

I found a cabin camp near Bear Mountain in only-slightly-upstate New York and made a reservation several months ago, once Jen agreed to come along. We'd never spent more than a few hours together on a few occasions, but bonded over hundreds of nighttime text messages over the nearly two years since our daughter were born, just three weeks apart.

It only took four sweaty trips to bring all of our stuff downstairs, via the elevator, and outside to Jen's full size van. Natually, Calliope insisted on accompanying me on each and every trip. Jen graciously agreed to bring the lion's share of kitchen and miscellaneous equipment since she lives in a one story house with parking immediately outside (I live in a very large building, on the 6th floor, and parking is a crapshoot.)

We finally loaded up the girls and set off for Bear Mountain. The drive was only about ninety minutes, and the girls did great. I was thrilled because Calliope has a long history of miserable screaming in the car, starting with her ride home from the hospital. Luckily, it's been getting better and better since I turned her car seat to forward facing.

We were stunned by the beauty of the campsite when we arrived. It was simple and rustic, yes, but amazing. The cabins were fairly close together, but surrounded by tall and majestic trees, with all the underbrush cleared out so the light filtered beautifully through the leaves. The lake was large and serene and deep blue, reflecting the light of the bright sun.

Because Jen and I like a challenge -- or else are just totally crazy -- we had planned ahead of time to potty train during our trip.

We kept to our diaper routine the first night as we set up, but waking up our first morning, I heard Jen say to Luna, "Ok, let's take your diaper off. No more diapers. You wear underwear now!"

Inwardly, I groaned. It was freezing that morning, and I didn't relish the thought of Calliope's skinny little tush being exposed to the elements. Soon enough, I took the diaper off, and put training pants and pants on. Luckily it warmed up fairly quickly.

There were laundry facilities at the campground, so for me, washing wet underpants was actually easier for me at the campground, when I could leave Calliope (crying) with Jen, versus having to bring her downstairs in the elevator with me at home. But not having a bathroom in our cabin was certainly challenging while potty training! Luckily the bathrooms were very nearby... but even short distances feel long when you are accompanied by a slow moving and easily distracted toddler or two. Let me just say that we spent what felt like the vast majority of our days going to, coming from, and hanging out at the bathrooms (where we also did our dishes).

Our first full day was really challenging, because we got lost trying to find an (unmarked, as it turned out) Target, and getting stuck for hours in outlet traffic. After that, we started to find our groove, and to enjoy ourselves.

The girls were great together. Luna was an amazing cheerleader for Calliope -- she would jump up and down, clap excitedly, and scream with exhilaration every time Calliope peed on the potty. Which Calliope, naturally, loved. Calliope, to her part, loved peering into Luna's potty and saying quietly but with great excitement, "Pee pee!"

They also reveled in getting into trouble together -- slamming doors shut, running back and forth between the two bedrooms, jumping in puddles, and making as much noise as possible.

Luna was a champion puddle jumper

And whenever Jen was out of sight, Calliope would call, "Mama? Mama?" Since she calls me Mommy, it was clear that she had adopted Jen as her second mom for the week. I'm sure most folks at the campground assumed we were a lesbian family. With Luna being so much bigger than Calliope, I figure they thought Luna was the older sister (instead of actually being three weeks younger).

One of the things we both appreciated about the campground was how friendly everyone was. I hadn't expected this at all, but it seemed very much a community. People came back year after year after year... the same weeks of the summer. Some had been coming for twenty years or more. Children ran wild in packs across the campground, from the ping pong area to the swings to the beach and down to the bonfire area. At night, they played "Man Hunt", slipping quietly past us with a polite "sorry to bother you" as we sat by the campfire. Parents smiled wryly at us in the bathrooms and said they hadn't seen their own children since they had arrived -- the kids were too busy catching up with their annual campground friends.

It was also an incredibly diverse crowd, with Polish and Puerto Ricans and blacks and whites and everyone in between. Which was just nice. Being from the city, this is normal to me -- well, I don't see a lot of Polish folks in my daily life, but Jen does -- but it's a rare thing in my experience camping. I liked that the campground felt welcoming to all.

Everyone was already discussing their plans to come back for Halloween weekend, when folks dress up in costumes, trick or treat, and have "best decorated cabin" contests. Although we don't have any plans to return in October, we loved the feeling of continuity within the community.

The girls loved the swings and the especially, the lake, though Calliope's lips turned blue and she started shivering within a minute of being in the water -- she just didn't have enough body fat to stay warm. But the water was beautifully clear and there was always a lifeguard on duty despite the fact that there was rarely more than ten people at the beach.

Lakeside. Notice that Calliope is sitting on a potty while she plays in the sand. I took that thing everywhere with us.

One day, we loaded up the big van and drove to Bear Mountain. Jen was familiar with the area from her motorcycle-riding adventures, but it was new to me. The views were spectacular and I was thrilled when Calliope successfully used her potty from the scenic overlook. The weather forecast wasn't good that day, but the clouds were high so the views were still magnificent.

Exploring the peak at Bear Mountain
Potty break with a view

Walking together at Bear Mountain

We were glad the next day that we had already taken our big adventure, because Calliope started vomiting repeatedly during the wee hours of the morning, and Luna was holding her left arm with her right and saying "Owie, Mommy" after an incident where Jen had grabbed her arm to prevent her from rolling off the bed in her sleep. All through breakfast (which Calliope skipped), Luna refused to use her arm and whimpered.

We agreed wryly that their timing was convenient, in terms of their maladies coinciding, and loaded up the van with potties and snacks and dry clothes after breakfast. Luna suddenly pronounced "Boo boo all gone Mommy!" and raised up her arms trimphantly -- something about sitting in her car seat seemed to have cured her! Calliope, meanwhile, wailed inconsolably until she finally fell asleep as we arrived at the first urgent care center, then fell asleep in the baby carrier as we went inside... only to be told that they only operated without appointments on weekdays. And never saw children. So we re-loaded up, Calliope screaming, and went to another urgent care center. She curled up in the baby carrier and once again went to sleep -- something that hasn't happened since she was an infant -- until we were seen. The doctor was kind and ordered a rapid strep test -- negative -- and Motrin (turned out she had a high fever by that time) and Gatorade and prescription diaper cream for the rash that had sprung up in her groin. And pronounced Luna as having a spontaneously resolved "nursemaid's elbow" -- a dislocation of the elbow that is common among toddlers. And a diagnosis I had mentioned to Jen already. But I was glad to have someone else pronounce her well again.

Calliope soon felt better from the Motrin. She refused to try the Gatorade until Luna sampled it... then both girls happily slammed some down. And by the next morning, both were completely back to normal.

We had one final day to enjoy the campsite, though we were already organizing the mighty packing up job ahead of us. We stayed up late loading the van, and woke up to grey skies and pouring rain the next morning, the perfect time to return to NYC.

We are both excited to come back next summer, to see our friendly Polish neighbors and to spend a lot more time at the beautiful beach and a lot less time at the communal bathrooms.  I'm thrilled to have established a vacation tradition that doesn't involve my family of origin, but something that is my very own. And now we know -- don't try to go food shopping (or anywhere else) near Woodbury Commons on a summer weekend.
We kept our collective sense of humor...
Despite potty training, too many hours in
the car, vomiting, fevers, dislocations, 
tantrums, poor napping, cold nights, and
a million trips to the communal bathrooms.
Go mamas!

Family portrait. In the van, of course.


  1. Oh my gosh, an epic adventure! Love it! You are totally nutso to potty train while camping!! Love the stories, we are going camping this weekend - with lots and lots of diapers ;)

  2. Sounds like such fun!! & I think the idea of potty training the girls while camping is genius!!

  3. Quite an adventure! Thanks for sharing the story and the pics! Glad you made it through with some good tales to tell. :-) I think you are brave.

  4. wow! Y'all are tougher than I am. I'm glad you had fun and started a new tradition. :-)