A few weeks ago, I set up a small, blue tent in our backyard. After spending so much time sheltering in place, my daughters had become bored with their normal backyard play, and I thought that a tent would be a fun way for them to add some variety to their daily routine. I figured that they would enjoy playing house in it during the day and pretending to camp in it at night while they were catching lightning bugs. Never in a million years did I anticipate that they would actually want to sleep in it, alone, without an adult.
The following morning, when my girls ran outside to play, I saw their eyes light up when they saw the tent. Right away, they began asking me if we were going to sleep in the tent, and I realized that I had not anticipated this outcome. Sure, I had countless childhood campouts in my backyard, but that was the 1980s. Times were different then. Plus, my kids are terrified of June bugs. How would they sleep with those disoriented beetles slamming into the sides of their tent every few seconds? Honestly, though, the main reason I had for not wanting them to sleep outside was that I was terrified. I know that backyard camping is a rite of passage for many children, but those children aren’t my children. I want my kids to have a childhood filled with adventure and wonderful memories, but I also know that bad things happen to kids. The thought of them sleeping outside scared the hell out of me.
As they circled around, begging me to let them sleep in the tent that night, I decided that the best thing to do, despite being riddled with anxiety, was to say yes. I’d love to be able to keep them in bubble wrap for their entire lives, but I also know that having small moments of childhood independence can help them grow into confident and healthy adults. Plus, I know how easy it is for kids to fall into the routine of sitting on the couch to watch Netflix for hours or spend an entire afternoon glued to an iPad; I don’t want that for my children. I want them to grow up with a strong appreciation for the outdoors and to be able to entertain themselves without the aid of electronics.
Later that evening, my husband and I sat on the back patio and watched as our daughters carried sleeping bags and pillows down our back steps and piled them into the tent. To the unzipping of sleeping bags, we talked about whether we had completely lost our minds and Googled statistics on kids getting stolen out of backyard tents by strangers. (In case you are wondering, I couldn’t find one single instance where this has happened. In fact, only about 100 children are abducted each year in stereotypical stranger scenarios and about half of them come home.)
Luckily, all of my worrying was for naught. Around 11 p.m. we heard the backdoor creak open and my 10-year-old came creeping inside. Apparently, she had developed a killer stomachache and thought that sleeping in her bed would make it go away. My five-year-old, on the other hand, trailed behind her, visibly upset that she’d lost her camping partner.
Seeing the disappointment on her face, my husband went upstairs, grabbed his sleeping bag and ventured out into the starlit night. Together, he and our youngest daughter shared jokes, made shadow animals on the tent walls with their flashlights and fell asleep to an orchestra of chirping crickets and hooting owls.
Meanwhile, snuggled into my comfortable bed, I drifted off to sleep knowing that my baby girl was having the time of her life and she’d definitely still be there in the morning. Lana Shovlin is a Springfield freelance writer and mom of three.