Michele Ashamalla: My family recently went camping. We crammed sleeping bags, tents, gear, food, camp stove and 300 pounds of other "necessary" items into the trunk of our car, jammed the kids in shoulder-to-shoulder and drove up a very long, very winding road until we reached our campsite.
We admired its natural beauty for about a minute and a half, then unloaded, pitched the tents and started cooking. After we ate, we cleaned up. (No small task: I was scrubbing pots with sand.) We had a lovely campfire, and after trekking the kids to the camp bathroom -- wherein I held my 4-year-old up so she wouldn't fall into the dark and smelly hole in the ground -- we got into our cozy tent.
As a prize for winning a Rochambeau game with his sisters, my 7-year-old got the backpacker's tent (relic of my husband's single days) to himself, so he missed the evening shenanigans -- namely, 3 AM potty runs and excessive moaning and groaning that ended with the 4-year-old sharing my sleeping bag (which was a castoff from my tweener girl).
If you've never felt claustrophobic, you've never been side-by-side with an "active sleeper" in a pink camouflage straightjacket. Eventually, I ended up in the 4-year-old's "Scooby-Doo" sleeping bag, which came up to my bellybutton (and I'm not a tall woman). My husband referred to it as "taking one for the team."
Flash-forward to the next week, when my friend, Diana, informed me that her husband also enjoys camping with their boys, but IN THE COMFORT OF THEIR BACKYARD. Sheer genius! I still enjoy camping away from home for two or three days (when the kids get used to the surroundings and there's enough time to really enjoy nature), but for the quick one-night getaway, what could be better?
It's inexpensive and close by. You can do it after dinner in your own kitchen, or even after dinner out. The bathrooms aren't scary in the least. If you have a firepit or chimenea to roast marshmallows in, it's even better. If not, just curl up with a flashlight to use for hand shadows and maybe a not-too-scary ghost story.
The only thing is, sometimes, late at night, Diana catches her husband trying to sneak back into the house ....