Innocent parents snared by tent trap

July 06, 2000|By Kevin Cowherd

IF YOU ARE the parent of a young child, at some point this summer, your child may turn to you and ask: "Can we buy a tent?"

Here's a little piece of advice: Don't do it.

Unless you're really into camping, this is one of those ideas you want to squash right away, before he gets his little hopes up and starts dashing around the neighborhood like a ferret on Dexedrine shouting: "We're getting a tent! We're getting a tent!"

See, as soon as you buy the little monster a tent, he'll ask for one of two things.

No. 1, he'll ask if he and his friend can sleep out in the tent in the back yard.

Or, worse, he'll ask you to sleep out in the tent with him and his friend.

Oh, I know, I know, sounds like a great way to spend quality time with your kid, right? A terrific way to bond in the Great Outdoors?

Think again, pal.

First of all, you won't have nearly the room in that little tent that you think you'll have.

Here's a rule of thumb to follow: If the product information tells you the tent can hold X number of people, divide it in half for a more realistic figure.

For instance, my family has a tent that supposedly sleeps six. But the only way you could fit six people in this tent is if all six were circus midgets.

So by the time you and your kid and his buddy get in the tent with your sleeping bags, lanterns, flashlights, radio, bug spray, water jugs, snacks - because God forbid anyone gets up and walks the 10 whole feet back to the house for food - you'll have all the legroom of a bunk on a World War II submarine.

Another thing about sleeping in tents is this: Adults don't realize how hard the ground really is.

Adults think: "Oh, I'll be lying on a nice carpet of grass and a thick sleeping bag - I'll be fine."

Yeah.

Right.

The truth is, within 15 minutes of first reclining in the tent, you'll lose all circulation from the waist down. Within a half-hour, all four limbs will be numb, your back sore and your hip will be digging into a large rock embedded in the ground just below you. In terms of pure discomfort, this will make the pull-out sofa at your in-laws' house feel like the presidential suite at the Waldorf-Astoria.

Then there is the matter of insects.

If you are at all observant, you know that at nightfall, your back yard turns into an insect Woodstock.

So even if you try to keep the tent flaps closed during this great adventure with your kid and his pal, there will soon be so many bugs in the tent you'll wonder if there isn't a decaying corpse in there with you.

And when the mosquitoes start buzzing around your head and you burrow into your sleeping bag in search of sanctuary, the shiny, polypropylene fabric will soon turn the sleeping bag into a sauna.

Then, as soon as you bring your sweat-drenched head out for air, it will attract even more insects, and soon waves and waves of them will be doing strafing runs around your scalp. Of course, throughout the long, endless night in the tent, you'll never really drift off to sleep.

Oh, don't worry about your kid and his friend. They'll be sawing wood in about 10 minutes.

But you, you'll lie there in a cramped, fitful, exhausted state of near-sleep, the kind of gray, edgy twilight of consciousness East German political prisoners would drift into after they'd been interrogated for 48 hours straight by the STASI.

At some point in the early morning, tired, numb, chilled by the onset of dew, you'll say to yourself: "OK, the hell with this." And you'll get up and go inside and head up to your nice, comfortable bed, which is where you should have been in the first place, if you had any brains.

The next step is up to you, of course.

But me, I'd see if I could find the sales receipt for that tent, pronto.

Because some of these outdoor stores have very liberal return policies, providing the tent isn't torn, too dirty or grass-stained.

At least, that's what I'm told.

I pray, for your sake, that it's true.

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