I doubt four-year-olds have a bucket list. If they do, I imagine camping in the backyard is probably on it.
Thus, I begrudgingly setup a tent beside the driveway last month. I knew a long, sleepless night was ahead. My 33-year-old back, shoulders and neck are accustomed to a Sealy Posturepedic not my lumpy lawn. The air-conditioned house is also far more comfortable than the hot, humid night air of Chicago in mid-August.
And yet, the backyard campout still made the summertime agenda. Our adventure was dutifully timed. The Wife was out of town. Sleeping in a tent provided a distraction large enough to avoid the “Where’s Mommy?” question.
I waited until late afternoon to announce the evening’s activities. I wanted to be sure the weather would cooperate before I promised a campout. The last thing I wanted was to set the table for an evening of flashlights and sleeping bags only to have to issue a rain check.
The forecast confirmed clear skies. So, I unrolled the four-man tent I haven’t used in years. My Coleman 12-foot by 7-foot tent was largely a refuge for underage drinking in my late teens. Now, I was about to use it for something far more wholesome. In fact, my toddlers spent much of the early evening pretending it was a spaceship.
Upon erecting the tent, I was hit with a genius idea. I went inside the house and removed the cushions from our sleeper sofa. I then unfolded the makeshift bed and swiped the four-inch thick mattress. This fit perfectly into the tent and proved visionary at bedtime. The early evening was spent around the bonfire. We smelled like bug spray, smoke and sweat.
We played tag with flashlights and shared ice cream. I should have roasted marshmallows or hot dogs. I just ran out of steam.
The boys were actually begging to go to bed at 8:30 p.m. I unzipped the tent and everyone quickly crawled inside. Speed was necessary to keep out the mosquitoes, which are having a baby boom generation this year thanks to ample summer thunderstorms.
The boys climbed into their sleeping bags. I tucked them in, gave them each a smooch and said goodnight. This was when the silliness began.
For the next two hours, the boys found new and interesting ways to avoid sleeping. First, two-year-old Peter wanted to trade flashlights with Bubba. Then, they traded back. After that, they wanted to swap sleeping bags. Then, they wanted to sleep on the mattress with me. Later, they decided to share stuffed animals, only to insist they be returned minutes later.
It was like watching the closing sequence of “The Benny Hill Show” in real time. At one point, I began to hum that silly saxophone instrumental from the Brit comedy.
The boys finally crashed about 10:30 p.m. I did too. Just before everyone closed our eyes, Bubba sat up in his sleeping bag. He looked at me and in a loud whisper said, “I love this campout, Dad.”
That made it a lot easier to sleep outside – that and the mattress.
Howard Ludwig is a former business writer who traded in his reporter’s notebook for a diaper
bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad. He now writes for The Father Life and can be reached at email@example.com.