August 15, 2012
When buying a new tent, you look at the capacity, seam quality, waterproofness. After a two-night camping trip this summer, I suggest a new specification for determining what makes a tent worth buying: how loud the zipper sounds at 4 a.m. in a full and quiet public campground.
On this camping trip, the mister and I decided to try a new sleeping arrangement: we would sleep in one tent while the girls—aged 6, 4, and 1—slept in another. We resurrected from storage the uber-light, uber-expensive two-person tent we bought before kids—the one with the mesh roof that let us fall asleep while watching falling stars. That was back when camping’s return on investment in gear, food, and time—to pack, set up, camp, take down, and wash everything we own—was never in question; it was a quick and cheap last-minute get-away. Camping now? At any given moment, the balance can shift from the picture-perfect family camping trip to total and utter chaos. The ROI is always in question.
Neither of us had slept well the first night. Our skinny, expensive, lightweight air mattresses was cushion enough before we had kids, but ten years on with extra weight and post-baby inflexible hips, it felt like I was sleeping on a piece of paper. We were asleep early the second night knowing our one year old, whose identity we’ll protect by calling her The Beast, would wake us at 6 a.m. The mister fell asleep quickly, as he does, and I dazed through our tent’s mesh roof at the tree canopy above. Peace, quiet, and the cool fresh air sent me to sleep shortly after.
I awoke around 3 a.m. to the cry of a toddler named Jeremy in another campsite. I know his name was Jeremy because halfway through his long painful wail, his mother whisper-shouted, “Jeremy, be quiet!” Jeremy answered her, “I need a pee pee!” That made me giggle, then Jeremy went quiet and I fell back asleep.
Around 4 a.m. I awoke to the sounds of another child wailing, only this time, unfortunately, it was a voice I recognized. “What is that?!” my 4-year-old, Clodagh, yelled in what was not her inside voice. She was laying next to her older sister, Eilish, who was passed out cold. “What is that? Eilish? EILISH MOVE!” she reprimanded her sister. “Mommy! Mommy!” Clodagh wailed. It was so quiet in the campground, I could have been 10 miles away and I would have heard her, as I’m sure all the tenters on the other side of the campsite did.
The mister and I tried shushing her with a whisper, “Shush Clodagh. Whispers please.” No luck; the yelling continued. The mister got up to deal with it. ZZZzzzzzzip went his tent zipper. It cracked through the quiet air like a gun shot. My body tensed. All I could think was, “Don’t wake the baby”, because if we wake the baby, we’re all—the whole campsite—is screwed. The Beast will never go back to sleep and she is one loud little chicken.
ZZZZzzzzip went the girls’ tent zipper like a lightening crack when the mister opened their door. “Daddy, turn on the light!” Clodagh yelled. “TURN ON THE LIGHT. KEEP IT ON ALL THE TIME. KEEP THE LIGHT ON ALL THE TIME!” Clearly she was afraid of the dark but all the mister and I could think of was a) waking The Beast and b) going back to sleep ourselves. In his most emphatic whisper-shout, the mister said, “Clodagh, use your whispers! Everyone is sleeping and you’ll wake them up!” Her response: “KEEP THE LIGHT ON ALL THE TIME!”
While this was going I took advantage of the fact that our tent’s zipper was open to go into the woods and relieve my full bladder. In that time, the mister returned to our tent, having left the flashlight on next to Clodagh’s head. This calmed her down and sent her back to sleep, immediately.
Zzzzzippppp! I heard him close the tent door and when I returned with the sound of gravel crunchity crunching under my shoes, I heard The Beast stir. “Ba ba baa,” she cooed. I stood frozen next to our tent. I didn’t want to move in case she heard me and thought it was wakey-wakey time. The mister had zipped the tent door shut so I couldn’t crawl back into my bed without unzipping the door. I was stuck.
“I can’t move,” I whispered almost inaudibly to the mister through the mesh roof, “I’ll wake the baby.” I giggled at how ridiculous it all was. “How long do you think I’ll have to stand here?” I asked him. “Half an hour,” he replied. “Nigh-night,” he said and snuggled into his sleeping bag. That made me laugh, so much that my poorly stifled guffaws were no quieter than the noisy zipper.
After a few minutes and no more sounds from the baby, I slowly unzipped the zipper. Slowing the zip doesn’t make it any quieter. Like a bandaid on skin, you’re almost better to do it quickly and get the pain over with. Tooth by tooth, I unzipped the zipper in anticipation that at any moment I’d hear another “Ba ba baa”. I opened the door only half way and slid my less-than-nimble body into the tent, landing awkwardly on the mister who woke with a start—to my satisfaction. Mosquitos and wasps could have had their pickings in the dawn light because there was no chance I was zipping that door shut.
All that worry kept me awake for another hour, lying motionless on my back looking out of the mesh roof. I heard trucks on the highway nearby by, owls hooting, leaves dropping from the tress, the mister snoring, and the girls rolling over in their sleeping bags. I must have slept again because I woke around 6 a.m. to the baby singing, “Ba ba baa.”
Music to my ears.