Vacations with the family are always a mixed bag. Trying to make memories with the kids to last a lifetime definitely has a cost — most of which involves crying, whining, putting up with family dynamics, and hauling ridiculous amounts of luggage. A small price to pay to create wonderful memories, right?

Recently, I spent four days camping in Wisconsin Dells with my husband, three children, and both of my parents. If you know me at all, camping never has been my thing. I’ve discovered that my feelings towards camping have not changed. I don’t want to be one with nature and sleep in the woods in a tent. I don’t like bugs, dirt, spiders, walking 3 miles uphill to a smelly bathroom, and being hot…or cold. To me, it is a great reminder of how lovely it is not camping. If I had my way, I would camp in a hotel equipped with a pool and a spa. Lots of people say camping is a way to escape the pressures and troubles of everyday life and relax in nature. To me, it causes more stress and anxiety than my everyday life. My theory is that any vacation where you have to work harder than you would at home or at your job is not a vacation at all. Although, any vacation with small children is hard work and not really a vacation. All that said, I still decided to go along with this camping thing for my kids. I want them to have the fun of camping out and spending time with their grandparents. Kids like that stuff, right?

My parents recently purchased a fancy Mercedes motor home and travel around the country camping. Now that is the kind of camping I could handle. This thing has a queen bed, loft, toilet, shower, TV and DVD, and full kitchen! Unfortunately, it is not large enough to sleep my family of five and the two of them. So instead of camping in a tent near their site, I had the genius idea of renting a “cabin” at the same campsite. That way we could still camp, but I would have the essentials like a shower, bed, bathroom, and kitchen. In theory, this was a good idea, a good compromise. My family would be in the cabin and my parents down a couple sites in their motor home. I had it all worked out in my mind. Our cabin would be close enough so the kids could run back and forth between the sites and we could use either place for cooking, fires, games, etc. That was not quite how it turned out. I should have known that nothing ever turns out the same as in my head.

The kids were really excited about the trip and I kind of was too. I hadn’t been to the Dells since I was a kid and I was looking forward to bringing my kids there and doing some of the things I remembered from long, long ago. Now, those of you with children know that packing for a four-day trip for three kids is a lot of work. We had to bring warm clothes, cool clothes, PJs, food, blankets, pillows, toys, books, and anything else we might need on our little adventure. The kids had their own ideas of what was essential to bring along on a four-day vacation. My oldest thought water balloons and Pokémon were a must. There was no way he could go four days without Pokémon and water balloons.  The middle child insisted on bringing half of the books on her book shelf and her American Girl doll. Seriously, she couldn’t lift her back pack. I had to take half of them out while she was sleeping. And the youngest, well, she just wanted to bring lots of shoes.

Good Times Ahead!
We loaded up the car. It was filled to the top, literally. I don’t think we could squeeze one more thing in if we tried. We hardly had room for the three kids.  Off we went on our long journey to the water park capital of the world. We weren’t gone for even 10 minutes and Evan was already asking if we were almost there. The kids started fighting almost immediately. Ugh. I had dreams of them just reading books quietly until they fell asleep so we could have a nice quiet four-hour trip. Again, I should never trust the ideas in my head. One is tattling on the other for eating balloons…not sure why someone was eating balloons. One was mad because his sister put a paper towel soaked with olive juice in his backpack. For pay back, he said he was going to purposely pee on the toilet seat so she sat on it. Good grief. The youngest was screaming at the top of her lungs because she wanted to read the books that the other kid had and they wouldn’t let her. Her books were not good enough and she wanted the other ones immediately. And so on and so on. All this within the first 15 minutes. This was going to be a long drive. People say texting and driving is dangerous, it is, but I think it is less dangerous than parenting and driving. It takes serious skill to mediate an argument over who got more crackers in their bag while tossing water bottles into the back seat, grabbing for the binky that fell on the ground to end the blood curdling screaming because one of the crackers was broken, and turning the radio up so one of them could sing along to their favorite song. Yep this is safe as can be. This went on until we got there about 4 hours later.

Halfway through the drive, I remembered that I forgot to grab my swimsuit out of the dryer before we left the house. Who forgets their swimsuit when going to the WATER capital of the world? Me. I was so focused on getting everything for everyone else that I forgot about myself. Grrrrr….I had to have a suit, so we made a stop at the Tomah, Wisconsin Walmart. I am sure I can find something just lovely at Walmart. Visiting Walmart is always a treat. While I ran in to find a fashionable, WT swimsuit, Chris drove the kids to Culvers to get an ice cream treat. That sounded like a good idea; keep them busy so they didn’t cry when I left the car. That’s what they do every time I leave the car, cry until I return. Seriously, I’ll be right back. Walmart was the typical freak show.  I tried on the only two swimsuits they had that weren’t a size 4XL or a size 0…Hideous. Just hideous. No way in hell was I going to wear one of these, even if it was just to a water park in Wisconsin. I left empty handed. I got back to the car to discover the chocolate ice cream he got for the baby was everywhere, her face, clothes, car seat, and even dripped down into the tote bag on the floor under her feet. Excellent. There she was crying again because she spilled and was sticky.



4th Of July Festivities!
FINALLY, we pulled into the campground and I pretty much knew I was going to hate it. Everything was old…and crowded. I know it was 4th of July, but I didn’t think there would be this many people. I tried to keep a positive attitude…I’m so good at that. We got all checked in and headed to over our site. My parents had just gotten there and they had a lovely site with lots of trees for shade and plenty of room for the kids to play. There was no one behind them so it was pretty private. Our cabin on the other hand, that’s a very different story. It was on a corner lot…a few feet away from a major intersection. There was a steady flow of traffic constantly. Mostly by decked out golf carts driven by intoxicated seasonal residents, but it was also on the main street that lead to the rest of the campground.
 
There was a seasonal camper directly behind us that had old, faded, Winnie the Pooh décor nailed up on the deck and a built in bar on the back. I’m so confused. Why Winnie the Pooh. Creepy. Directly across the street was the lovely view of the overflowing garbage dumpsters, poop dump station for the motor homes, and the campsite workers’ sheds. Truly breathtaking. The smell, well, that took your breath away too…not in a good way.

Kitchen Fly Swatter
Our cabin was a dark brown trailer with a weathered and rickety old deck off the patio door. I feared that it was going to collapse under our weight. We unlocked the door, and there was the beautiful place we paid $165 a night to rent for four days. It smelled, the carpet had stains everywhere, and there was dust and hairballs on the floor. The couch in the 2×3 living room was from 1985 and was so uncomfortable you didn’t even want to sit on it. All I could think about were the stains everywhere. What nasty things had gone on in this tiny, stank space? The kitchen (if you can even call it that) had a refrigerator, mini stove, sink, and a couple of cabinets. It was scummy and dirty just like everything else in that place. There were two glorious bedrooms each complete with a full/twin bunk bed and doctor’s office waiting room chairs…the metal ones with the gray seat cushion. The bathroom….that was just sick. I gag just thinking about it…the dirt, hair, and dim florescent lighting. I honestly can’t believe that I actually set foot and showered in there (with my shoes). The walls were all off white and I saw chunks of nasty and quashed bug stains everywhere. I didn’t even want to think about what it was. There was a green fly swatter hanging on the wall in the kitchen – probably the cause of some of the bloody gut stains on the walls. Fly swatters in the kitchen, that says class.
 
I saw dirt and spider webs in all the corners in all the rooms. It was definitely not what I thought I was going to get. I knew before I booked it that it wouldn’t be fancy or big, but I at least expected it to be clean. I bet the dog kennel we brought the dog to was cleaner than this!  I sat down at the picnic table overlooking the scenic poop dump site and I immediately began googling a hotel we could stay at instead. There was no way I was going to spend four days in this smelly, dirty, shit hole. I was willing to forfeit the money we already paid to sleep in a clean, un-stained, fragrance-free place. I was freaking out and just wanted out. I would have been better off in a tent.

Grilling with Grandpa
My parents got all set up in their camp area. We just hung out there while we tried to decide what we wanted to do so that the baby didn’t get hit by cars on the busy corner. My vote was still to get the hell out and find a hotel. I lost that fight. It was decided that we would sleep and shower at our crappy cabin and spend the rest of the time at my parent’s site. We’re going to enjoy ourselves, dammit. Even if we have to endure torture to do it.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Mag. 10 Fit
After I accepted that I was going to live and sleep in filth for four days, I calmed down a little. It was better than I thought it would be, overall. We hung out at my parents site for the majority of the time. We made good food, hung out by the fire, and spent quality time together as a family. The youngest, the town crier as we like to call her, was her usual spunky self. Bolting anytime she got the chance, chasing dogs that walked by, and throwing magnitude 10 fits over anything and everything. It was exhausting trying to keep up with her. It was like that every day, but camping, lack of sleep, and too much sugar enhanced her already difficult personality. That child has a mind of her own and there is just no stopping her. The kids were covered in dirt from head to toe. I had to resort to bribery tactics, letting them eat candy far too often, letting them stay up too late each night, and putting aside my OCD and letting them go to bed covered in mud— I did what I had to do to survive.

My favorite thing was simply people watching at the campground. What a freak show. Clearly, Wisconsin Dells was the gathering place for all the freaks of the world. This was way better than the State Fair. I mean, I saw some real class acts. I always knew that camping people were their own breed, but Wisconsin camping people…that was remarkable. I saw a multitude of inappropriate swimwear, people covered in questionable tattoos, long-haired WT folks decked out in denim and American flags, and my favorite sight of the trip, a lady wearing Spanks for shorts. Yep, it looked like she didn’t have pants on from far away, but the closer definitely wearing Spanks….For shorts. Weirdest thing I have ever seen. Everyone I saw had a cigarette and beer in their hands at all times. I lost track of the number of times that the 2-year-old was almost run over by drunken golf cart drivers. I don’t mean to be so judgmental…but these people were so different from me and this lifestyle was not something I was used to. I do live in Hanover, but this was far worse. I’m sure they were all judging me too as I walked around with my bottled water, coach purse, and not-tattooed body and cigarette smelling clothes. But what the heck whatever makes people happy.
 

 

During our time there, we visited a water and amusement park, rode the Duck Boats, went to fun restaurants, and went fishing. I got to do my favorite thing, drinking my morning coffee outside with the birds. The weather was perfect. Kids got to swim, play at the park, do campground crafts, and enjoy the outdoors and family.
 

So, we made it the four days. I sucked it up and slept and showered in the most rancid place I had ever been to, Chris successfully dealt with my bad attitude and frustration, and my parents survived the noise and chaos of the kids. Regardless of the stress of the vacation, it turned out to be a pretty good time for all of us. Definitely not a relaxing vacation because we all worked harder there than at home, but a good trip. The truth is, no vacation with young children will ever be relaxing or go as planned but that’s just the way it is at this stage in our lives. It’s about the kids, and they had fun. So…mom, dad, Chris, let’s raise a glass (or two) to ourselves. We were brave warriors and survived a summer trip with the young kids…and with me.  
 

We did it!