Our Last Camping Trip

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    Whether or not it was part of an effort to process the trauma, our youngest daughter, Lindsey, drew an absolutely stunning picture of the ostrich that attacked her mother.

    On our last family camping adventure, the highly anticipated day trip was a visit to Virginia Safari Park in Natural Bridge. The only drive-through zoo in the state is home to more than a thousand exotic animals from six continents – and one extremely cantankerous ostrich with mother issues.

    Although we had enjoyed a number of multi-day family outdoor adventures in years past, on this particular night we were turbo camping. This means you pack only the essentials: a tent, sleeping bags, a lantern. And marshmallows. It’s well documented in Schwartzkopf lore that packing a tent doesn’t always mean remembering the tent poles, which, by the way, are considered essential.

    This time we got lucky.

    On the short drive to the campground that evening following the ostrich incident, uh, I mean, zoo tour, we picked up dinner. Later, after Scott and the kids put up the tent, we ate cold pizza around the fire, played Bananagrams, and sketched by lantern light before retiring, book lights blazing. The girls and I were lulled to sleep by the bear-like snoring of big Daddy, in concert with the thunder-like rumble of big trucks barreling down Interstate-81. I dreamt of ostriches.

    The next morning, the kids lamented that we hadn’t cooked a proper camp breakfast, or gone hiking, or done any of the things we usually do when we camp. Lindsey was still sketching. It was a kind of walk of shame we did as we slunk out of the KOA campground at sunrise and made tracks for the Pink Cadillac Diner before heading home.

    Born and raised in West-by-God-Virginia, the truth is, before I met my husband I had never camped a day in my life – turbo or otherwise. The only time I had even slept outside was a front-porch slumber party with my sisters. Admittedly, this might be the reason I thought a camping honeymoon was a delightful idea.

    Anyway, a few years after the camping honeymoon and several other couples-only trips, we became a bona fide camping family. Scott had the know-how and we had amassed the gear – camp stove, cookware, tents, all of it. And at roughly ten bucks a night for a tent site, you couldn’t beat the prices. We chose Westmoreland State Park as our first family adventure. I was intrigued by the prospect of “hunting for ancient shark teeth along the Potomac,” like it said on the website. Note for parents of young children: There’s an enormous and unfair difference between hunting for and finding fossils.

    Two memorable, if excruciating camp-ins spent on the Science Museum of Virginia’s rock-hard rotunda floor (because cool moms do not use air mattresses) and a number of nights under the stars in the backyard notwithstanding, our next major trip was a camping expedition to Crabtree Falls in Nelson County.

    By this time, the girls had figured out that while side trips and hikes were interesting diversions, it was the actual camping with their dad they enjoyed most – the fact that the everyday stuff, like building a fire or cooking a decent meal, for example, took time and teamwork. Fully aware that this was not my turf, I gladly surrendered the reigns to the parent who wore the camping pants in the family. I was amazed, and yes, perhaps a bit perturbed, to watch the same women-children I had to cajole into setting the table, literally skip around campsites collecting squaw wood to build a fire with our resident Eagle Scout. This was definitely Dad’s territory.

    Which might be why Lindsey chose to immortalize the ostrich that attacked me in watercolor. Or why the mother-pecker singled me out that day at the zoo in the first place. Then again, it also might have had something to do with the huge bucket of feed I was holding way too close to my body.

    Either way, the artwork that resulted from our last camping trip will have to hold me over for a while. We haven’t scheduled our next one.

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    Karen Schwartzkopf
    Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family: husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director, and their daughters—Sam, Robin, and Lindsey. You can read Karen’s take on parenting in the Editor’s Voice.