Nancy: Adventure. Exhausting, but Worth it.

I grew up camping quite a bit with my five siblings and my parents.  I remember splashing in creeks, going on hikes and bike rides, rigging up rope swings, making huts, catching snakes and cramming into a tent when the sun went down.  I look back on these memories with great fondness, and I know this must be why I seek out the same opportunities for my own children.

HOWEVER, I realize now, with only two small boys, how challenging it must have been for my mother to keep six of us (three girls and three boys) semi-clean, fed, happy, and on the radar.  I was curious to see how she did it.  Never, in all the many times that we went camping, did it occur to me that she was looking forward to the drive home more than she was the next round of freeze-tag-in-the-cactus-patch.

Why did she do it?  Why did she take us again and again when it was so exhausting?  I found the answer inspiring, and I think it might appeal to my readers who don’t naturally take to the idea of sleeping on the hard ground and taking baby-wipe-showers.

I am thankful everyday that my Mother (and Father) created for us the opportunities to experience the outdoors, no matter how hard it was on her, and I appreciate her optimistic outlook, always willing to go along for the adventure. So, it is with great honor that I present to you, an interview with MY very own OutsideMom.

1. First of all, what was YOUR childhood like growing up?

Growing up in Las Vegas in the 1950’s was great! My family lived way out of town on six acres.  We had our own sand dune with tamarisk trees so old and large that we could actually run on the limbs of the trees and play tag.    At the bottom of the sand dune was a pond fed by an artesian flow from an old well.  Between the two places we had access to cattails, bullfrogs, fish, tadpoles, insects of all kinds and assorted birds.  Not only did we have our family’s six acres, but we had the whole desert beyond to explore.

It wasn’t the flora and fauna that was my biggest draw, although I did love seeing lizards, snakes, a desert tortoise or two, some intriguing rocks and cactus blooms.  I want you to know for me, that wasn’t the best find of the day.   As a child, my best find was junk piles, the new ones and the old ones.  It’s not like it was lots of wet garbage and stinky stuff. Wet garbage and paper were burned in most people’s back yards in a big metal barrel.  The other stuff that wouldn’t burn was dumped out in the desert along one of the many dusty dirt roads. Since we lived way out of town, we had close access to the good stuff……I considered myself pretty lucky on that one!

2. We tent camped a lot when I was young. I’m not so sure I could take 6 kids camping, what was your motivation?

Our budget didn’t allow for big elaborate vacations and we didn’t have the trendy toys the neighbors had.  We didn’t ski, snowboard, go boating, or ride 3-wheelers. Money for gas determined how far we could go.  Luckily it didn’t matter how far from home we were, you guys had just as much fun on an outing that was twenty minutes from home as you did on a day’s drive.

I feel bad to say that we didn’t go camping near as much as your Dad would have liked. He was my motivation.  Your Dad would say, “If you want the kids to have memories of their childhood, you have to do something to make those memories, even if they are bad ones.”

I’ll admit I tried to like camping, and I really wanted to like other parts of the trip besides just the drive heading for home. Over the years we kept improving our camping supplies.  It wasn’t for the kids that we improved them; it was for me! With each upgrade I began to like camping a little more; that and you kept getting older which made things simpler.

3. What kinds of improvements did you implement to make camping smoother?

Since it was hard for me to get enough sleep to stay sane when we camped we were constantly trying to improve our sleeping situation.

  • Phase 1: At first Marshall and I started camping with no tent, just sleeping under the stars. I found out I couldn’t sleep on the hard ground and every air mattress I ever had was flat by morning.
  • Phase 2: Your dad brought out an old Army tent with a pole in the middle and no floor. It was the kind you usually needed an army truck to haul around. We did have a few army cots, but they weren’t much better than the ground.
  • Phase 3: Eventually we got the Coleman eight-man camping tent.  It was luxurious compared to what we’d been trying; at least it had a floor, windows with screens and a door!  It held six kids and two adults alright, just like sardines in a can.  By this time I had a decent air mattress and would have possibly slept, except someone was always waking up crying which would set off a chain reaction of discontent children causing cranky parents.
  • Phase 4: The day we took the mattress off the hide-a-bed couch and used it for Marshall and me to sleep on was a real turning point.  However, we had to take the Safari Minivan AND the Ford pick-up to get all our camping stuff, along with the family, to Pine Valley so we could camp for three days.
  • Phase 5: In 1990 we bought a tent trailer and I was good to go!  It was comfortable but it would not hold all eight of us, so some still slept in the tent, which was even a better idea.
  • Phase 6: In 2001 we graduated to a Wilderness camping trailer.  By the time we’d made that upgrade the kids weren’t little anymore, but the grandkids are and the circle continues.

4. You mentioned that you wanted to be able to make memories even if they were bad ones. I have to know; with six extremely well behaved children (wink wink) was there ever really a ‘bad’ memory?

I must confess, there weren’t very many bad memories!  In retrospect even the bad memories weren’t all that bad and have been the topic of many good laughs. Our first time camping at the beach was certainly a memory. It was in 1987 and you kids ranged from thirteen to two years old. Not being ocean camping savvy, we ended up learning a lot from this trip.

The number one lesson was sunglasses.  We were told to bring them and use them, but we didn’t heed the warning.  It was just too expensive to buy everyone a pair of sunglasses that we knew they wouldn’t wear. After two days on the beach the third night in the tent was filled with crying children.  Everyone had their eyes sunburned.  In the morning when you guys woke up your eyes were matted shut with goop.  Sunburned eyes are very sensitive to light so you had to stay in the shade and your dad had to go buy everyone a pair of sunglasses.  We found a doctor that would write us a prescription for the badly needed eye drops to help heal the kid’s eyes.

We took everyone to the San Diego Zoo for one of the days we were there. We had the two youngest on leashes (which they hated), as we were paranoid about loosing someone or having you kidnapped.  Being kids, you were excited to see everything and trying to keep our little gaggle under wing was a big undertaking. It was exhausting. I think the entire world decided to go the zoo on the same day we did.  I never wanted to go there again, it about killed me off.  So why did we also take you to Sea World and Tijuana that same trip?

Even going to the beach we felt like we were on high alert counting heads constantly.  The three younger kids were the only ones on the beach with life jackets on.  Of course, you wanted to be by the ocean or in the ocean all the time every day so it was constant vigilance.

Hence, after this trip in 1987 we didn’t dare try camping at the beach again until 1991.  You kids were four years older and we had our Coleman tent trailer….ahhhh, much better. We went every year for some 18 years, still do just not every year. After we figured out (via trial and error) the ins and outs of beach camping the annual camping trip to Carlsbad State Beach became my favorite camp trip.

5. Do you have a favorite outdoor memory?

One memory that really sticks out in my mind is a picture I look at every now and then.  It’s a photo of Seth when he was only two years old and we happened upon a liter of baby bobcats way down in eastern Arizona.  It was so wonderful and exciting to see such a rare sight.   Seth toddled over and sat right next to the two of them, petting the little guys like you would kittens as they crawled over the top of his lap.  We took a few pictures, then we all stood back to watch and marvel at what we had found. The mother was not far away as she let us see her take off hoping to lead us astray.

6. Since camping wasn’t necessarily your favorite outdoor activity to do with us as kids, what was? And why?

My favorite activity to do with the kids was the day adventure.  The one where you could go somewhere on a picnic or day hike, see some new sights, learn a few facts, roast some hot dogs and return home to showers and your own bed.  It was especially fun to get another family to go along.  These back-to-nature outings were a part of our family, they were what we did regularly, not just an occasional something to do.

7. I know now that taking kids out on camping trips, or even a day trip is exhausting! What do you think kids have to gain from these experiences, I mean, why not just stay home?

You know what Lindsey?  Your father was right; we needed to do those things.  It may have been exhausting but I guess many times worthwhile ventures were and still are labor intensive.  The memories are priceless and the bonds that we made are very strong.  I believe in our wanderings there was instilled in each of us a deep appreciation for God and a respect for what he has created.  It let’s us all know that we are part of a bigger picture.

29 Comments so far

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  1. I absolutely love this interview. Your mom’s candor and way of writing makes me feel like she is speaking directly to me… I can hear her in my head!
    This is my favorite line:

    It may have been exhausting but I guess many times worthwhile ventures were and still are labor intensive. The memories are priceless and the bonds that we made are very strong.

    Something I would do well to remember everyday.
    Thanks for sharing, and give your mom a big hug for me–her hard work created for me the best outdoor partner a girl could ask for!

    • Liv – Thanks! Ya, she did a good job. I love it, but I’m a little biased… Can you believe she thought she wasn’t an OutsideMom?

  2. mayme

    Thank you for this! *I* needed it. As someone with a large young family (pregnant with my 6th) and not much money, this is encouraging. I can relate so much to everything she has said. Getting out is a chore, but always worth it. I only wish we were more of the norm today as it was then. It’s hard to find other families now that want to 1) spend time outside without their electronics, AND 2) do it with a large family.
    In the end, like she said, WE have to build our memories no matter what anyone else thinks. Thank you!

    • Mayme – Thanks for the comment, I can’t wait to have my Mom read what you just wrote. So glad you glad you liked the interview!
      I hear you on the perils of finding other outdoor families, we often find ourselves on adventures with just the 4 of us, and rarely every encounter other families. But I suppose it’s slightly less chaotic?
      Congrats on expecting your 6th! I absolutely LOVED growing up in a big family, your kids sound like they are pretty lucky!

  3. Lauren

    Great interview! So much of it felt so familiar as I can recall many similar transitions (phases) in equipment as my parents took us camping over the years… from the giant old (musty smelling, yet still awesome) army tent to the little old pop-up camper trailer. I can’t imagine what kind of person I would be now if I didn’t have all those experiences and memories.

    • Lauren – I know, I’ve been thinking about it all week, I really can’t even express how grateful I am to have had parents who gave me these experiences.
      I wonder what our kids will say 30 years from now “can you believe we all slept in that yellow REI tent!” Ya, might need to pick up an Army tent just for the memories.

  4. Your mom is awesome! I absolutely loved the quote Liv mentioned above, and this one: “If you want the kids to have memories of their childhood, you have to do something to make those memories, even if they are bad ones.”

    I know sometimes I feel like it’s to get outside that I want to bag it, but we end up going and it’s so nice and totally worth it for all of us once we’re out. And seeing how natural it is for my kids to be outside, especially last weekend when we took another family out for their first hike ever (yes, ever), it felt worth it all those times we were out for 20 minutes then had to run back to the car in the rain, or got covered in mud, or ended up late for a park date because we found too many cool millipedes.

    Also, bobcat babies?! That’s amazing!

    • MamaBee – Ya, thankfully I personally have not had too many bad ones. But then again, I’ve got about 40 more years to go… :) Plus, like my Mom said, they give you something to laugh about. Later, of course…

  5. Great post Beezer. Reminds me how much we owe Mom and Dad.

  6. Lacey

    At several points along our last (11 day, 3,000 mi.) road trip I thought of mom and wondered how she handled it all with 6 kids. We basically did the same route we did as kids in the silver bullet (GMC Safari mini van) pulling a tent trailer. All the way from Southern Utah up to Washington and then along the coast. That trip for me ranked as one of the best of my childhood. As you know recently I reenacted it with my two boys, for the most part we had a great time, but there were those occasional melt downs. One of the best photo I took of this trip is one with Eddie and Adan screaming in the car while Chad and I scrambled to pack up before the rains hit. Most photos depict the good times and beautiful things, but I wanted to remember it how it really was…the good with the bad.
    Thanks Lindsey for the post and the wonderful walk down memory lane and thanks mom for the many priceless memories. I sometimes wonder what life would have been like had we had money, and I can honestly say I’m glad we didn’t. Wouldn’t trade my childhood for ANYTHING!

    • Lacey – I know. I think about it all the time with 2 kids “wonder if this were 6!” Haahaaa. At any rate, your welcome, and I want to see the photo of the kids screaming in the car.

  7. Donalee

    I’m so glad that I occasionally see the posts for your blog that Travis and Maren leave on Facebook. :) I had to tell you, Lindsey, how BEAUTIFUL of a picture that is of your mom! (The very first one at the top. Plus, the lighting is AMAZING!!! And seeing your dad in the background made me giggle.) I love your posts and after reading this one feel very lucky and blessed to have been a part of a couple of these family camping trips. I can remember in high school everyone always saying how “scary” they thought Mr. Topham was. I’d just laugh because the Principal Topham they knew at school was definitely not the same one I knew from your family camping trips! Your parents ROCK and your mom has certainly always been a trooper! I have 2 kids now and my husband will often say that he can’t wait for our kids to get older so we can go on trips with them. I think we need to stop putting it off until “someday” and go “NOW”! And I think that I may have to read your entire blog to be best prepared for it… Thanks for all the great tips and especially RECIPES!

    • Donalee – You have to start getting your kids out now! If you wait until their older they will be waaaaayyy too cool;) Thanks for the comment!

  8. Beautiful interview. It reminds us that just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. We just hiked the sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in NC with our nieces and 3 yo daughter. There were times when I thought we were insane with sand sticking all over our sweaty bodies, a screaming and crying 3 yo, a heat index of 100, and no shade at all. But seeing their smiling faces run and roll down those dunes made it all worth it.

    • Rebekah – Thanks! I’m sure it takes a small amount of insanity to get your kids climbing up a sand due in hot weather ;) but I agree, the trip down would have been worth it. Good lesson in perseverance too…

  9. This was totally inspiration, Lindsey. Thanks.

  10. Bonnie

    What a great interview. Now and then, having two kids made me quail in the face of the great outdoors, but six? Your mother is a saint! And she looked so cool and put together, too.

    • Bonnie – I agree, even with my two it’s daunting! She is a saint…

  11. Tim

    Lindsey. This interview made me teary. There were “only” five of us growing up but my parents did a great job getting outside. I know that it was very challenging for my mother as she was never really exposed to that as a child. Last week we took the kids to the beach while in S. California. My poor 3 year old started freaking out about the sand fleas and it took me 20 minutes to climb out of the beach chair. It’s about this moment that I realized that I’ve failed as an Outside Dad.

    • Tim – Haahahaa. Sorry, but it is a little funny. There is still time! A wise woman once said “Better get them out now before they are WAaaaY to cool”, that wise woman was me…

  12. Have you ever thought about publishing an e-book or guest authoring on other blogs? I have a blog based upon on the same subjects you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my readers would value your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an email.

  13. […] Being the daughter of a Biologist we had a revolving door of wild critters living in our house. Reptiles, mammals, birds, and insects of every shape, size, and venomocity.  (yeah, it’s a real word.)  (okay, it’s not, but it should be.) Of course our wild guests typically lived in large glass houses topped with plenty of heavy rocks.  And they usually enjoyed only short stays in our wild animal hotel.  My Mom was grateful. […]

  14. Tav

    Can’t tell you how amazing this is. I hate to admit it, but I almost started crying during that last paragraph. Your mom is an inspiration to me and a huge part of my life and upbringing. I don’t know what I would have ever done without the Topham family as my second family.

    • Tav,

      Thanks for the comment :) Made my day. I feel the same about you family… just wish we saw you all more. We really need that 2 family Carlsbad reunion!

  15. […] This is the interview with my Mom (6/14/2011) Nancy: Adventure. Exhausting, but worth it […]

  16. […] how I’m raising my own kids. I feel like I ran wild (to which I will be forever grateful to my Mother), and although I want my kids to have the same experiences I did, I’m just not sure […]


    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

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