I've promised my three-year-old that I will take him camping this summer. I've already got the tent and I've bought him a child's sleeping bag (special offer, £9.99, from Mountain Warehouse), which he loves but I am a bit nervous. I think it's always going to be the same: when your children start to do something that you enjoy are they going to enjoy it too? So far I've successfully introduced the lad to country walks, cycle rides and trains but is camping going to be a step too far? Is three years old a bit too young?
Anyway, the day has come, slightly ahead of schedule after my afternoon shift at work was cancelled. A quick look at the weather forecast: set fair and warm. The venue: my family's farm. Let's go! My son is excited and babbles excitedly about encountering owls and hedgehogs on their nightly rambles. Unbeknown to him he is re-igniting an old tradition: summer camps with cousins and friends were a regular feature of my childhood but I was a little bit older on my first camp and I'm just hoping for a trouble-free night. Questions keep buzzing round my head. Will he be warm enough? Will he be scared? What happens if he can't sleep? What happens if he wants Mummy? (My wife is going home and my brother is sleeping in the tent as a third person.)
I pitch the tent then fill it with all the necessities for a night's repose. Camping is a simple life so we've only bought the bare essentials: sleeping bags, roll mat, pillows, bedtime stories, toys, clothes, Leap Pad, a few more toys, torches, more clothes, drinks bottle, camera, Calpol, a few more bedtime stories and a few other absolutely crucial things which just can't be left behind. My son leaps excitedly into the tent and has a few minutes snuggled in his sleeping bag before going indoors to get changed and have supper. We are careful to see that he gets dressed in a warm pair of pyjamas.
Inside, we hang up the torch and settle down to as normal a bedtime regime as we can. He is happier now; the tent walls have shut out the fear. A moment's unease when I turn out the light is soon calmed as he finds his night vision. There is a bit of excitement: it is his first camp after all. Very soon he is complaining of the heat and divesting himself of his pyjamas. I rootle around in my rucksack and manage to persuade him to put T-shirt on. Then he demands water; another dip into the bag and he is handed his water bottle. He struggles out of his sleeping bag, claiming he is too warm; he is advised to keep his legs under cover. Finally I can hear regular breathing and decide that he is asleep.
So is three years old too young for your first camp? Assuredly not! No tears, no panic, no wanting to go home. I am content - and more than a little relieved.
About midnight I wriggle gingerly out of the tent - ever noticed how noisy tent zips are and how the ground sheet crackles?! I stand in my socks and look up, up into the night sky. A golden moon behind the trees and all the stars in Creation gaze austerely down at me. It is a perfect summer's night. I breathe it in: a sweet clean breath of Success.