When I was about six months pregnant with Ben, Tony and I went camping up in Mendocino. It was part of our regular routine in those days, a couple weekends a year we would camp in Mendocino or the Anderson Valley, or the Santa Cruz Mountains. As I lay on my stack of thermarests that first night, thinking comfortably of the princess and the pea, I felt the clock ticking down a bit on this life, but I thought for sure we’d be in the tent again the following autumn with our new baby.

Flash forward seven years. Tony and both boys have camped overnight at Slide Ranch a couple times, and the Tony and Ben have also gone on father-son camping trips with Ben’s school. But I had not yet been back in the tent, and it was time.

So when a friend suggested that a group of us go camping, and actually pushed us to look at our calendars (and then even booked the campsite), there wasn’t much left for me to do but make some lists. Mine was on Google docs (natch; if you can organize 45 writers into a book this way, why not 4 families for a camp-out?), and listed everything from dish sponge to cocktail shaker. Ben’s was in his notebook: “Radio, Compass, Flashlight, All Available Snacks from Home, K. Kaplan Koala, Monkey, Racoony, Books I Will Choose Later, Drawing Pad, Markers.” Eli tucked patch blanket and Moosie into his backpack and we were, with a few other odds and ends, ready to go. I was surprised and pleased that all the gear, the food, and the children fit into the car.

And it turned out to be incredibly relaxing. 7 adults and 7 boys (ages three to eight). 4 tents and 2 picnic tables — one set aside for the boys’ art projects, one reserved for meal prep and cooking. The boys played with sticks and wooden airplanes, they slid down a dirt hill on their butts, they made up baseball games with the badminton set, they colored, they climbed up onto tall tree stumps and jumped off. They got very, very dirty. When they were hungry, we fed them.

Meanwhile, the adults read and talked and led the boys on a short hike while some others napped; we made several great meals, drank cocktails, and read some more.

We all ate many s’mores.

And we are already planning for next year.

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