The Longest Goodbye: Booze-free Camping? Is That Even a Thing?!?

Entry from Day 12: Preparing for the Camping Holiday

13 January 2020                                                                                                                                 a five minute read

Ah, the annual family holiday. Something every family looks forward to all year, right?

Not to be completely cynical about the whole thing, but I’ve discovered that planning for and thinking about the annual family holiday is also a bit like the childbirth experience: somehow, all of the accompanying pain is mostly forgotten about in between experiences.  The negative memories have all been expunged, as if by a Harry-Potter-esque Obliviate! spell, and replaced with a much happier and romantic notion of the entire experience (these tenets are applicable to camping, childbirth and many eras of Saturday Night Live). Otherwise, you’d never repeat the experience again. Isn’t the human brain amazing in its self-preservation abilities?!?

Okay, so here is the is the narrative you tell yourself in the lead up to holidays: It is a time to decompress and spend “quality family time” together. The kids can go free range, and enjoy Tom Sawyer moments of frivolous fun – all without a screen or Xbox in sight! You’ll be sharing laughs, making memories that last a lifetime. Frolicking on the beach.  Playing endless rounds of Uno by a campfire while eating sausages and perfectly caramelized marshmellows. Sound familiar?

But then the reality begins to set in before you even leave. You have to remind, then cajole then finally scream at the kids in the days leading up to the impending departure, making sure they have packed everything (they haven’t). You have to make sure the pets/house/garden, etc will be cared for in your absence. That the fridge/school bags/washing machine/trash bins are all emptied as appropriate.  If you’re camping (ha!) well then lucky you! There’s all a whole new fresh hell of packing that awaits on that front. Meanwhile, your husband throws a week’s worth of socks & jocks and some beef jerky in a bag, and he’s ready to go all Bear Grylls for a month*.

Generally speaking, my body has already depleted its entire month’s supply of cortisol before the rubber even hits the road. I begin to have flashbacks: of burnt sausages and ‘I wanted that marshmellow!’ arguments, fights over Uno that end in collapsible camping chairs being upended in wrestling matches (not the nice kind), of being forced to listen to incessant backseat bickering – a form of torture that could make an Al-Qaida prisoner spill State secrets. When leaving day for the holiday finally comes, I’ve already lowered killed my romantic expectations. In the end, I just hope that everyone comes back alive and in one piece. Is it too much to ask that the holiday doesn’t end in divorce, a snake bite, a fishing hook to the cornea or some other situational calamity? But maybe that’s just me and my alter-ego ‘Catastrophizer Kelly’ at work.

Anyway, on Day 1 of a holiday (usually at least a six-hour road trip to somewhere), I feel like I’ve already well and truly earned my unwinding with a couple of drinks or three. Or four. Oh, hell just give me the ENTIRE bottle and a straw. You get the idea. Now I have to prepare myself for exactly none of that. And to further complicate matters, this year we are escaping to the wild woolly hills of Tasmania on a (spoiler alert!) camping holiday.  CAMPING!!! *insert anguish-face emoji here*

First, let me explain my relationship with camping, because it’s a complicated one. Having grown up not too far from the White Mountains of New Hampshire, we did a lot of camping. A LOT.  And back then, I loved it. But who didn’t love camping as kid (except maybe Paris Hilton)? The time with cousins running amok in the woods, back in the halcyon summer days of life pre-Lyme disease. Evenings spent trying to quietly terrify each other with Friday the 13th inspo stories (it was the 80s), while a soundtrack of Oldies music and adult laughter roared in the background.  Camping when you were a kid of that generation was like an endless game of Little House on the Prairie, except without the imminent threat of possibly being dismembered by a mob of angry Sioux (who rightfully deserved to be angry, but that’s another story altogether).

In my 20s, I developed a new appreciation for camping. It was Kerouac-ian, a cheap and easy way to see the world (even if that world was barely beyond the Boston suburbs). My girlfriends and I had so many laughs on camping weekends. And day drinking was not only totally acceptable, but encouraged!

Then some years later – I think around the time that a tiny human was forcefully extricated from my body – my relationship with camping began to change. Suddenly, camping just seemed like too much effort. Babies just have way too much stuff.  This is evident even when you’re just popping down to the post office to buy a stamp. Forget about preparing for days on end in the woods with no washing machine!  And seriously, why go somewhere that’s actually going make your life harder? That fact alone contributed to the extinction of both nunneries and orphanages. So, like, DUH, on the camping thing. Nah. Thanks, but no. IX-NAY on the AMPIN-CAY!

Just indulge me for a moment here, but imagine trying to explain the concept of camping to aliens – who are clearly already far superior to us, as they have made it all the way to Earth from a galaxy far, far away. It would sound something like this:

‘So we pack up some of our stuff, personal belongings, tiny toiletries, etc. And lots and lots of purpose-specific equipment, most of which is usually a much more primitive, yet more expensive version of its normal everyday equivalent.  You have to buy these items from uppity camping shops with names like Kathman-Gucci, from patronizing hiker-dude shop assistants with names Danner. All those ‘mod-cons’ our species has evolved to invent, and come to rely on over many many generations?  We actually willfully abandon all of those conveniences in an effort to ‘get back to nature’.  Then we drive into the mosquito-filled woods to sleep in a fancy, self-constructed, bed-free fabric shelter, where we basically pretend to be homeless for a few nights. All of that nomadic living that was over by the time Western Civilisation was born? Yeah, we try and go back to recapture some of that ‘magic’. Except mostly without the hunting or the marauders.’

Seriously, aliens would be like, ‘No wonder you’ve never made it beyond the moon! Prepare for invasion!’ I would have no comeback.  Absolutely none. I would just roll over like a sated Labrador and hope for the best.

While my kids are much older now and the crippling accoutrements of babyhood are long gone, I still can’t say that I have ever really rekindled my *love* for camping. (Yet another consequence of parenting that no one tells you about.) Again, why sleep in a tent when there are perfectly good resorts out there – WITH BEDS! AND TOILETS! – that are just as relaxing? Does that make me high-maintenance? Pfffft. When we do go camping, I always try to grin and bear it for the kids’ sake – but sometimes I am better at faking it than others, as they will quickly point out.

My one consolation with the whole post-parenting camping experience was that at least I had my wine.  Or icy cold beer straight from a cooler. And the acceptableness of day drinking.  This always made it much more tolerable. This was the dangling carrot. Once everything was set up (STOP pushing the frikin’ POLE, you’re going to put a HOLE IN THE TENT!) it was me and my book and a giant bottomless glass of vino. Ah, peace at last.

But not this year. Ugh. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.  What was I thinking, seriously, giving up booze NOW? I could have waited until after the vacation! Duuuummmmmb!!!  But now that I’m over 10 days in, I consider: Is there ever a right time for something like this? Isn’t there always something coming up that makes a good excuse to drink, or to not give up drinking or to delay quitting: a wedding, St Patrick’s day, a 40th, a birthday, a girls’ night out, an ordinary Thursday?!? Now that I’ve pulled off the band-aid, I need to make this experiment work. Plus I really don’t want to bath the dog again during the next happy hour.

Then I had another scary realisation: I actually couldn’t even remember the last time I had an alcohol-free holiday of any description. Presumably while pregnant, but nothing is really springing to mind. Besides, isn’t that one of the major adulting bonuses of being on a holiday? Being able to drink every day, without judgement from yourself or others? Wine with lunch, late afternoon umbrella drinks, sunset beer on the beach. You get the idea. Not getting drunk. But just keeping yourself pleasantly, socially-acceptably anesthetised from about 1pm onwards.

So I knew going in to this (CAMPING!!!) holiday, I had to prepare myself for this. Already an Ultimate Test. It would possibly be more trying than going to a wedding EVERY DAY for TWO WHOLE WEEKS. And this is a big test so early into my sober journey. So I had to be prepared. Much like every other freaking part of camping…

Next week: what I did to protect my fragile sobriety.

*My husband does the lion’s share of the camping-packing, but I’m sure you know a husband or two like this somewhere…