We checked the campsite like golfers sizing up a green. We walked across it, then around it and across it again, squatting to peer along the lay of the land. This has possibilities, I said, pointing to a relatively flat grassy area with a gentle incline. Hunter, my son, said nothing. He was tugging at the tent trying to get it out of the stuff sack. At three years old and on his first camp-out, he was willing to trust my judgment on this matter.
I unrolled the groundcloth which promptly blew away and wrapped around a shrub. Hunter laughed and ran over to grab it.
Never mind, I said. Let's get the tent up first.
Hunter took off with one of the tent poles and started whacking the ground with it. I rescued the pole and wrestled the tent into an upright position. Hunter dragged the groundcloth back about the time I was putting on the rain fly.
We scooted the groundcloth under the tent and, following instructions, Hunter tugged at the corners helping center it under the tent floor.
That was about the extent of his helping pitch the tent unless you count following me around stomping down tent stakes I'd just poked into the ground.
We arranged our sleeping pads and sleeping bags (and pillows Mom had thought to include) in the tent. Hunter tucked in the little stuffed reindeer that he'd brought along.
With camp set up, I lit the fire and Hunter and I sat down to the time-honored tradition of staring at flames.
We talked about the stars, the moon and crickets whose droning cricketing noise raised in Hunter some concerns about sleeping in the great outdoors.
We were pretty well settled in our cozy little camp when Mom came out the back door with a bowl of popcorn.
"Do you want me to turn on the back light?" she asked.
"No," I said. "We're camping."
I pushed the campfire (a citronella-laden bucket candle) across the patio table to make room for the popcorn.
Mom sat down and joined us munching popcorn until bedtime, then she went back inside.
Hunter and I crawled into the tent and I explained to Hunter how to slip into the sleeping bag, borrowed from Mom, and zip himself in.
He didn't want to.
Instead, he wanted to shine the flashlight out the back tent window or pretend to be driving a car or about anything but crawl into that bag.
Then he said, "Time to go night-night. Let's go in."
No, I explained, we're camping. We're going to sleep out here tonight.
Finally, he laid down on my pillow. Then his. Then I got him into the bag. Then it was too hot so I unzipped it and laid it over him like a blanket.
We laid on our backs and played cars some more with the flashlight serving as a nightlight.
We talked about the clouds rolling by above the screened window, which let a cool June breeze sweep through the tent.
Soon, Hunter rolled onto his side and fell asleep, his arm around the reindeer.
I waited a few minutes, then reached over him and turned off the flashlight.
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