Camping for keeps

Photo by Doyle Larsson

Photo by Doyle Larsson

With the approach of Valentine's day (it's tomorrow, if you'd missed that) it felt fitting to dedicate this post to a few things lovey-dovey.

In particular, I would like to pay homage to the vows many of us took on our wedding day. You know the ones: “I promise to love you with all that I am and all that I have, for better or for worse, for as long as we both shall live".

Like many married folk, I spoke those words on my special day and fell more in love with the man of my dreams as they left my mouth. Sickening, right? Just you wait.

See, three and a half years later, when the phrase "for better or for worse" slipped back into my mind, it truly was very very sickening. I’m talking about what happened at 7:30am last Wednesday. If you’d been there you’d have seen my husband and I covered in caramel milk vomit on the side of a rural gravel road, yelling at each other.

Alright, alright. Let's unpack a little.

This previous week, as you may be aware, was our annual camping trip up north to Whananaki. Olly had introduced me to the tradition some seven years ago, when we joined his group of friends who had been camping in the spot since high school.

Whananaki is the kind of place you fall in love with instantly. The location is incredibly remote, well-maintained and stunningly beautiful. Camping sites are dotted up hills, hidden in lush valleys or plonked right by the beach. All overlook the most incredible views.

This year, we devised a cunning plan. We'd pack the day before, piling everything into the boot for a 3am wake-up the next day. If we left then, you see, Ashton would still need 4-5 hours of his regular night time sleep. All we would have to do is bundle him up quickly so he’d fall back asleep again easily. Then we'd get straight on the road for a smooth, traffic-less drive all the way to our destination. We estimated it would take no longer than three hours and that I could also sleep in the car while Olly took on the driving. I was up for that.

When the alarm buzzed at 3am that morning, it actually took us another 45 minutes to get sorted, but once we were ready to go, I bundled Ashton up in my arms and stole him away to the car…

Where he refused to fall back asleep.

Still, on we drove. An hour passed and he decided he'd had enough of sitting quietly. He started to wail and out came the iPad.

After a little more driving, we'd stopped on the side of the road for a cuddle and a nappy change, but Ashton still wasn't sleeping and he wasn’t happy. Neither was my husband.

The louder Ashton cried, the faster Olly drove. Then of course, there was me, telling him rather un-politely (okay, rudely) to slow down everytime he went even slightly over the speed limit.

Tensions were high, brains were tired, bellies were hungry.

Then just as we approached Whangarei we saw it. The blessed Golden Arches: McDonalds.
It was now 6am and the restaurant was quietly bustling. Perfect, I thought. Ashton could expend some energy on the playground while we enjoyed a much deserved coffee.

We ordered our food and beverages and made our way to the Family zone. It was bliss. Free wifi, hot coffee (very important) and a chance to forget about my itchy tired eyes. We’d also ordered a treat for Ashton, a fluffy, hoping to perk him up in time for the final stretch of the journey.

After a refreshing break, we felt mentally prepared for the final leg. How wrong we were. Not only did Ashton’s crying level up a notch, I completely forget about how windy the final leg was.

“Slow down!” I squawked at Olly. “These hills are hurting his ears!” “You’re going too fast!” “You’ll scare him!” “Olly, I’m going to lose it.”

In one quick second, Ashton’s crying stopped and I smelled horror: Salty, acidic, sour, caramel milk. What had happened?

“He’s been sick. Pull over. HE’S BEEN SICK” I wailed as soon as my sleepy brain figured it out.

Olly pulled over instantly on a rural road with paddocked cows either side of us as I, somehow, flung my 29-weeks-pregnant body out of the car to rescue my toddler. I threw open his door and he stared up at me sadly with outstretched arms.

Oh the horror.

It was everywhere. The vomit was EVERYWHERE. All down his chin, down his chest, over both arms, down his clothing and in every crevice of his car seat in deep puddles. It had even begun to seep down the sides of the car seat and onto the car’s upholstery.

Why hadn’t I thought about the implications of giving my child milk before travelling on a windy road? Isn’t that like Family-travelling-rule number one?

I scrambled to find a towel, a cloth, wipes. Anything that could aid me in even beginning to clean up this mess. The only problem was Olly had packed the car so efficiently that it was impossible to see where all my supplies were. Within minutes he joined me and began tirelessly throwing the entire contents of the boot out onto the side of the road to get to what we needed.

He found some cloth nappies I’d packed away (for such an occasion as this) and together we stripped our child butt-naked and tried to hose him down with a water bottle.

Ashton, unsurprisingly, was now feeling much better and attempting to make a run for it. I’m struggling to contain him, my husband is desperately trying to hose him down, our possessions are sprawled out messily on the side of the road and - what do you know - there are four (not one, FOUR) sets of cows trying to get freaky with each other in the paddocks behind us. I’M NOT EXAGGERATING.

Happy Valentine’s day!

I couldn’t help but laugh at the hopelessness of our situation. We were one flat tyre away from absolute disaster (that didn’t happen thank goodness). It was in this moment that I looked at my husband and weirdly, the words came back to me.

“For better or worse.”

This was it, wasn’t it? This was the “worse” we spoke about in our vows.

When I’d said them on my wedding day, sparkling in an ivory dress with my hair perfect and my perfume smelling not at all like caramel-milk vomit, I’d assumed that “better or worse” had meant the really really great stuff, and the really really terrible stuff.

But the words were “better” and “worse”, not “best” and “worst” so I hadn’t just promised him love in life’s euphoric moments or ultimate rock-bottoms. I’d promised him love in the mundane, yucky, boring and average moments too.

I’d promised him love in the 3am wake ups and the child-covered-in-vomit moments. I’d promised him love in the “You’re driving too fast!” and the “Why’d you pack the boot so tight!” and the “Olly you’re driving me up the wall!” moments too.

We’d promised to love each other through bad life decisions, poor parenting and unjustified crankiness. Here we were covered in the vomit of the son we’d created together, out of love, surrounded by randy cows.

Don’t let me fool you, we’ve suffered worse moments. Much worse moments. Love and understanding is very important then as well (that’s another blog post) but I’d truly never considered that the slightly-bad, reasonably-chaotic, partly-laughable moments were such a defining part of our relationship as well.

I want to tell you that from there we gazed at each other as if it were for the first time, we kissed and hugged and went on to have the most blissful camping trip known to modern man, but... we absolutely didn’t.

In fact the day just got worse. It was perhaps the most difficult we’ve ever had as parents. We were all tired, Ashton threw tantrums and refused to sleep, I almost fainted in all my pregnant glory, Olly had to set the tent up on his own and the weather began to pack in. There was a storm and heavy winds all night.

The first day of our “holiday” was so terrible in fact, that the following morning Olly turned to me and said “shall we just pack up and go home?”

We almost did - but you know what? Camping, much like marriage and family-life, is a work in progress. You’ll have crap days for sure. You’ll have crap years in fact. You’ll have times where it seems easier to pack it all up than it does to continue.

But believe me, the sun will come out, the smiles will come back. The hard times won’t stop - ever - but regardless, in time you’ll find yourself sunning it up on a sandy beach with not a worry in sight.

We forged ahead with our camping trip and spent great moments with friends that we would’ve missed out on had we not pressed through that terrible first day.

We’ll continue to camp in the same spot every year, we’ll continue to do all we can to make the travel as smooth-sailing as possible and we won’t decide to leave at 3am ever again.

To end this post with something sentimental, I’d like to remind all of us that yes, those vows are important ones. That marriage day is an important one.

But what’s more important?

All the years that follow.

All pictures taken by Doyle Larsson.

Rachel Chen