I took the three oldest camping last night, about half an hour North into what I'd call cow country if I'd seen any cows.
I've never been a fan of camping, but Matthew waged a determined campaign for Dad to come, and Rachel being under the weather from a bug she caught earlier this week sealed my fate.
The kids had a blast, of course. I think a large part of the appeal for the oldest two is that they were essentially unsupervised. They even had their own tent, which Matthew pitched himself. I made sure they knew where the latrines were and left them to their own devices, with a warning not to stay up too late that they naturally ignored.
Another part of the fun was unrestricted access to the larder, such as it was. Isaac spent basically the entire evening roasting marshmallows. We'd planned to make s'mores, but we forgot to bring graham crackers. After momentary disappointment when faced with this crushing news, Isaac and Melissa made the best of it and ate the pound of chocolate anyway, with some help from their friends.
Note to self: chocolate and marshmallows are sticky. Next time, bring baby wipes.
My lack of camping experience became apparent at bedtime. I'd put up the tent on an incline; it was barely noticeable on the outside, but when lying down, any motion tended to slide you farther towards the bottom of the tent. I arranged my sleeping bag with my head facing "up" the hill to minimize this, but Isaac was too squirmy for this to help, and he ended up a little Isaac ball at the bottom. Fortunately, this didn't bother him.
The noise from the other kids did bother him, though. I waited until 8:45, well past his usual bedtime, to take him to the tent and tuck him into his brand-new very own sleeping bag. Isaac had reminded me several times by then that it was dark, which meant it was time to sleep. (Most children are familiar with the logic that daylight means I should get to stay up; I think less carry that through to its corollary, that darkness denotes bedtime.) But I kept him up for the skits, with the Doritos Christine thoughtfully provided, since I knew he'd be curious what all the noise was about.
Unfortunately, while there were a handful of kids Isaac's age and younger, most of the kids were older and had no intention of settling down so early. Neither did Isaac's hopeful urging to "Be quiet! We sleeping here!" have the desired effect. But by 9:30 fatigue won out and he fell asleep. I followed an hour later, for a night of fitful tossing within the unfamiliar confines of a sleeping bag.
It was cold when we woke up. I dressed Isaac in his jacket over a long sleeve shirt over a t-shirt. The elders quorum already had fires going and hot cocoa, which Isaac greeted with approval. Then they cooked pancakes and ham and bacon, which were also welcome. Isaac kept telling me how he was going to eat this many pancakes, and stretched his arms wide. After a manly effort, that turned out to be about three and a half.
Matthew packed his tent up with somewhat less alacrity than he'd deployed it. I told him to pack up after eating breakfast; an hour later, I found him trying to start a fire with which to cook some hot dogs from our cooler. "But Dad," he said, "I'm still eating breakfast!"
So I ended up packing the kids tent as well as mine. We got home with everyone smelling like campfire smoke and a little cranky from not sleeping. "Jacob and I tried to stay up all night," Matthew reported, but admitted their efforts had fallen a little short. Isaac turned into an Isaac puddle whenever I told him No over anything. So we decreed a general day of siesta when we put Corinna down for her nap, and everyone was much improved for it.