Beach Camping Adventures

by yeshimiqbal

A beach camping trip to Fire Island was planned for Kate’s birthday (primarily by Emily, one of Kate’s closest friends for many many years and a person who can only accurately be described as a guardian angel of all of our lives). I was of two minds about going along. I’m tired all the time these days and it seemed easier to stay in bed with a book for the weekend. But Kate and Emily were so encouraging! They said, come along! They said, it will be so stress-free! You’ll sit on the beach all day and do nothing! It will be delightful! There will be no stress! It will be so relaxing! Yes, these are some of the things they said, so I allowed myself to be convinced.

Fire Island

And I love, love, love the beach, and Cian has been enamored with the idea of camping for a long time (mainly because he found our headlamps and thinks they are the best thing to exist on the face of the planet). And he loves the beach too, and it all did ultimately sound pretty stress free, even though that meant Emily and Kate would be doing a lot of planning and lugging and packing and driving. I figured my job would be to hold Cian’s and Ryah’s hands, and be fashionable in a beachy hat and sunglasses. 

And that’s what happened, on the first day! Oh, there were minor mishaps, as is expected. We ended up getting on a ferry that dropped us off on the island a bit further from the campsite than we had planned, so there was more walking (and lugging, and sweating, and herding children and a dog) than we had expected. Turns out there was a lot of sun and a lot of bugs, which meant everyone was constantly smearing weird combinations of bug spray and sunscreen on themselves and trying to find shade. 

But it was all lovely, that first night and day. I’d never been to Fire Island before, and there’s something about the ocean that puts my entire body at ease, and it was lovely to be away from the house for awhile. Oh, it was so beautiful. A winding, leafy boardwalk led all the campsites to the beach. The beach was clean and long and the waves were perfect. Cian was euphoric on the beach (though it took four grown-ups to encourage him to go in the water. Of course, once he was in the water, he refused to come out). Emily definitely has super powers too, and had all these amazing outdoor meals planned for us, so for instance, we’re all happily smearing butter and blueberries and maple syrup on pancakes in the morning (“I want pancakes and maple syrupppp” Cian shouted in hysterical delight when he saw this). But oooh! People kept asking for trouble. Folks kept making jokey comments about various things being good content for blog posts. Tim said that morning, “Come on, breeze! I wish there was more of a breeze.” Kate REALLY asked for trouble. Arguably, everything that happened next was her fault really. “I love sleeping with the sound of rain on the tent,” she said, with altogether too much cheer, when we saw that the forecast for the evening was ‘light rain.’ “It’s great sleeping with rain on the tent. I love the sound of rain on the tent. I love rain on the tent.” Yes, these are some of the things she said (Thanks, Kate).

SO, after a delightful day, and a pleasant, cooling, brief evening rain, that we thought was our expected ‘light rain,’ we were all safe and sound in our respective tents (which were all pretty filthy and sandy, but I mean it was beach camping so that was expected) and Cian is completely exhausted from a full, happy day on the beach and sound asleep, cheeks and nose red with sunburn, sand in his hair.

Enjoying campsite with Kate!

The storm started at maybe 2.30 am, maybe 3, and it woke me up. For what felt like a long time, I didn’t panic. I just made observations to myself. “Oh wow, that’s a lot of wind, this tent is flapping around” and “My goodness, this rain is really pouring down” and “By golly, Cian is sleeping through all this, he really was tired,” and “Uh-oh, I need to pee.” But then the storm got more and more intense. The rain! The likes of which I’ve only seen in monsoon season in Bangladesh. The lightning and thunder, flashing and crashing above my head! The winds, like a monarch gone mad! (OK I took that line from a pretty bad, delightfully satisfying TV show about FBI agents/terrorists I’ve been watching to recover from all our recent adventures). I tried to science my way into explaining to myself how everything was fine, like one of the main character kids in Abbu’s books would do. “Well, we’re IN the tent, so the tent won’t just fly off our heads. There’s no large trees, so nothing is going to fall on us. There are however taller things than the tent, so we probably won’t get struck by lightning.” The science failed me, terror took over, I FREAKED OUT, opened the window of my tent, got sprayed with a face full of rain water, and WAILED for Duja and Joey, whose tents were closest to mine (I was somehow sure they wouldn’t respond. I had convinced myself it was me, Cian, and the storm in the world that night. But they were both like, “Yeah?” and even just hearing their voices was the most reassuring thing in the world that night). 

After we’d dragged tents out of the worst of the water

When they realized I was FREAKING OUT, they both started sending me reassuring texts. Duja offered to come to my tent, but she had the dog with her, and as terrified as I was of being alone in a tent with Cian in a massive freak thunderstorm, I’d take that over a dog in my tent any day. So, no. But Joey ran through the rain and into my and Cian’s tent. JOEY SAVED ME THAT NIGHT (Two things in relation to Joey saving me: 1) I’ve said it so many times that the other day Cian asked me, “Is Uncle Joey an ambulance?”  2) I’ve heard that Joey’s mom is a reader of this blog, so, though I’ve never met you, hi! And thank you for your wonderful son!) He sat with me, held my hand, said things about how it would soon be over, and even came up with some intriguing gossip from past lives to distract me. 

Of course, as all this sitting and hand-holding was happening, the campsite started to flood. For a while I had this vague idea that we’d be dry because we were in the tent and the tent was miraculously good at keeping the rain off our heads, but the WHOLE CAMPSITE FLOODED. And the entire tent filled with water. And I watched as the water rose around us, and the mattress Cian was sleeping on got more and more wet, water creeping towards his head, and Joey and I made a few attempts to pull our legs in or something, but ultimately you’re just sitting in a flood and there’s no saving anything and why even try. Cian woke up at the point where the mattress was soaked through and perhaps floating. He tried to stand up and there was so much water he couldn’t. Now, a few people have asked me if he was scared, so to put their minds at ease: Cian barely noticed the storm or the flood and was delighted that Joey was there in the tent and also had a flashlight on his head.  All he wanted to do was put on his own flashlight too and discuss at great length why his and Joey’s flashlights both had red lights and normal lights. So, that conversation helped pass the time a bit, as the storm continued to come down around us. Oh my god, I was terrified! I’ve never been outside in weather like that. Actually, to be fair, I have camped in torrential downpours before, but something about having a child I’m responsible for protecting just injected this completely different level of nervousness. But then, at some point the sun started to rise, and I heard Emily laughing somewhere out in the world, and I knew we had made it (though, at some point Emily was doing the rounds on everyone’s tents to check on everyone and I was like “Emily?” and she was like “Yeah?” and I was like, “KATE KNOWS WE’RE GOING HOME NOW RIGHT?!”) 

The sun rose, we came out of our tents, and our campsite was a lake! Kate, Ryah, Emily, and Tim were in a massive three-bedroom tent, and the thing had FALLEN IN! But everyone was cheery, and we just started a long, messy, wet process of getting our stuff out of the flood and packed up to go. Truly, this was the best possible group to be caught in a freak thunderstorm and have a flooded campsite in; nobody was grumpy about it, or if they were, they didn’t let it show. Everyone was laughing and helping one another out. I was so impressed with everyone, and I feel like I learnt something profound about how to approach a disaster with grace. Just put your chin up and do what needs to happen next. I suppose this was possible because we’d all come through pretty unscathed. For me the biggest problem – the only real problem – was being cold. There was honestly very little dry clothing for anyone at that point, and the weather was different from the day before – it was still dripping, and cloudy, and really quite breezy (thanks Tim) so there was no warming up or drying off going on. For awhile we wrapped the kids in an emergency rescue blanket from Kate’s first aid kit, but they were overall too delighted by the new lake (Ryah was stoked to have a way to use her unicorn-shaped floatie) to stay still for long. Cian did want to snuggle on my nap for warmth and eat graham crackers for awhile, but once I managed to find a couple half-dry t-shirts to layer on him, he was great too. 

We were supposed to stay another night, but with not a single thing dry, and no hope of the weather letting you dry it…well, we went home. And did a lot of laundry (well, Kate did our household’s laundry). And put things in the backyard to dry. And had glorious showers, and thought we were done with floods for awhile. 

Of course, a few days later Hurricane Ida hit. This time what happened to us was my fault. Like a total idiot, as it was raining, I texted our camping group thread, “Storms are so weird and boring when you’re not outside in them. Miss this crew 😘” About three minutes after I sent this to the thread, water burst through the door to the yard and into Kate’s bedroom, and flooded almost the entirety of the first floor. 

Oh, that flood’s a story for another time. Or maybe not. Even though the second flood’s aftermath was significantly more difficult to deal with than the camping storm, and easily equally as dramatic, I’m averse to writing anything about it because of what the city faced in that storm. It feels wrong. 

So I’ll wrap up on a positive note: with a huge shout-out to the awesome beach camping crew: The tiny adventurers Cian and Ryah, Cocoa (the dog), Kate, Tim, Duja, and most of all, Emily (who is a planning QUEEN and the guardian angel of my heart) and Joey (who, indeed, was an ambulance that night). As Cian has been asking periodically since we returned from camping, “When are we going back to the campsite?”

Me, Joey, Tim, Duja, Kate, and Emily!