Pulling up stakes at Camp Yellowstone

Before we had kids, my husband and I were major adventurers. No weekend trek was too long, no mountain hideaway was too remote.

When we became parents, we wanted to pass on this love of adventure. Which, in theory, is an admirable goal. But in our zeal to create the perfect family vacation, we overlooked one thing: the kids.

When Kyle was 3 and Ryan was six months, we packed up and headed off to Yellowstone National Park for our inaugural wilderness foray.

Heady with the prospect of introducing our boys to the beauty of nature, we envisioned turning them into miniature Grizzly Adams types.

No mere outing, this was going to be a life-changing experience, and our kids would be forever grateful for it.

With high hopes we hit the road at 5 a.m. for our 12-hour journey to Yellowstone. The first few hours were peaceful enough as Kyle and Ryan settled back into sleep.

Then they woke up.

Kyle was bored with his car toys within 45 minutes. Ryan started howling with hunger. We veered off the interstate and headed to Denny's. All visions of making it to Yellowstone in one day soon vanished as our car lurched to a stop every hour or so for potty stops, diaper stops, nursing stops, meal stops, or fuel stops.

Forgetting to stock up on children's music tapes before we left, we listened to Big Bird's grating serenades until the tape deck overheated.

When we reached Yellowstone the next day, I wanted to bound out of the car and kiss the ranger at the welcome station. All we had to do was buzz through the park past Old Faithful, drop off our stuff at our cabin in West Yellowstone, and then we could spend the rest of the day ... Excuse me, Mr. Ranger? The Old Faithful road is closed? No big deal - we'll just go the long way around. How long could that take?

In kid-time, way too long. We pulled the kids out of the car when we spotted our first bison. But here's the thing about bison - they kind of lose their appeal somewhere around the 87th herd.

When eternity was up, we arrived in West Yellowstone. Although our cabin was only four blocks outside the park, that's like saying you're just four blocks outside of Texas.

There were very few families with young children in Yellowstone. That's because it's a STUPID IDEA. Our vision of a week filled with leisurely family hikes was shattered by the reality of having to drive for hours to explore different areas of the park.

One day Curt stopped the car short when he spotted a moose standing in Yellowstone River. Sharing this majestic sight with our kids would surely save our vacation from the commode.

We padded to the water's edge to stand with hundreds of others who were staring in awe at this beautiful creature.

"Moose are very shy. It's not very often that you see them up close like this," whispered the woman next to me. Smiling, I reveled in the serenity of the moment.

Kyle wasn't impressed. He just wanted to play in the water.

"We can't, honey. It's too deep," whispered my husband. We turned to go, and began heading uphill to our car.


The moose startled and began to move out of the river. The nature-loving crowd turned ugly.

With one expert motion Curt swooped Kyle up in his arms, covered his mouth, and bounded up to the car. I held a howling Ryan close and quickly followed suit.

I don't know if the moose stuck around much longer. I just know we didn't. We cut our losses and headed home the next day.

Somewhere in that parenting manual we never received must be a section on keeping things simple with kids. All I know is that if we should get another urge for a family wilderness trek, we'll pitch a tent in the backyard.

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to home@csps.com, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.

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