Camping can be an acquired taste. So my parents started us young with annual trips to Pymatuning State Park in Andover. My mother would spend what seemed like weeks cleaning and packing our small Jayco pop-up camper for the end-of-summer getaway.
We'd go with friends, who'd get a campsite right nearby, and my grandparents, who owned a Winnebago motor home and a boat.
The next 10 days were always spent swimming in the lake, playing video games at the commissary, fishing for perch on the water and eating s'mores around the campfire. I learned to bait my own hook, avoid being sprayed by a skunk, make hobo pies and drink coffee in the mornings.
Those camping trips brought valuable lessons as well: No riding bikes until the camper is level. When the women make breakfast, the men do the dishes. If grandpa is fishing, don't wake him - even when it looks like he's getting a nibble.
When my wife and I had kids of our own, I wanted to pass all this along. At the time, my son was almost 3 — in the midst of potty training — and my daughter was 7 months. We'd start slow: a weekend at Pymatuning. So we bought a tent, an inflatable mattress, a small grill and a lantern. After work that Friday, as we packed the car, the weather seemed a little sketchy. "Maybe we should try this some other weekend," my wife suggested. But it had been a stressful week, and stubbornly, I just wanted to go. "No, come on, it'll be fun," I responded.
By the time we reached the campground, it was getting dark. The kids, who'd slept on the ride, were now wide awake, making tent setup all the more challenging. Then it got cold fast. As I struggled to blow up the mattress in the pitch black, the cheap electric air pump shrieked like a banshee. Patrick had to pee. Molly was crying. It was a nightmare.
We all huddled together on the queen-size mattress and relied on a tiny heater for warmth. The sun rose early, but no one slept much. I don't think we even hung around for a second night. Since then, we've vacationed in cabins, lodges, a dude ranch, hotels and resorts but never again in a tent.
I should have figured that one out from camping, too. My dad didn't hand me black coffee the first time — it had plenty of cream and sugar. Since then, I've worked my way up to it. Perhaps we're ready to give camping one more try.