Hold it Lightly

Published on August 15th, 2019 | by Cheryl Klein


The Indoor Mom’s Guide to Camping

1. First, work a very long week so you’ll be in top shape for your Friday-to-Sunday camping trip. Guzzle coffee at 8 pm on Thursday night so you can clean and pack while your four-year-old son plays in your dining room with the neighbor girls. When he suggests that they paint, repeat Don’t stifle his creativity inside your head fifty times.

2. Clean paint off the walls.

3. Wake up at 2 am because coffee. Stare into the blue light of your phone. That always helps.

4. Choose a destination that cannot be accessed via just one mode of transportation. For example, beautiful Catalina Island, 26 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, requires a car trip to the port, a ferry boat, and a short but hilly hike. It’s not like you have beaches in LA that you can drive right up to.

5. In line for the boat, discover that you and your spouse cannot carry all your luggage at one time. Surrender to the kindness of strangers who offer to help, as your old sleeping bag unspools like a rebellious cinnamon roll.

6. Onboard, argue with your spouse. Make a little bit of a scene.

“I think we should lighten our load. Let’s throw away some food.” 

“I bought every item on your packing list, so give me a minute to mourn, okay?”

“Oh, that list was just a rough sketch I got from the internet. I figured you’d edit it down and meal-plan like you always do. You do that so well.”

“And I figured you put things on a list because you wanted me to, you know, get them.”

“I can see now how I didn’t communicate as well as I could have.”

“I should have seen ‘chilaquiles’ as a red flag. You hate chilaquiles.”

7. Be grateful that your son likes boats so much he ignores your arguing. “Look, Mommy and Mama, a dolphin-fish!” He points to a spot of blank green ocean. Say, “Amazing! A dolphin-fish!”

8. Throw away tomatoes, basil, and half a carton of raspberries. Who brings basil camping? Throw away your cooler, which is old and cracking anyway.

9. Think about landfills. Think about food instability. You’re a good time.


10. Arrive in Two Harbors, a tiny seaside town with an adjacent campground. Look away from the beachfront cottages where you are not staying. Do not think about fluffy white towels and umbrella drinks and lying down and reading. Pick up your 93 bags. Keep an eye on your son, who is running around the dock and seems anxious to join up with a family of seasoned campers pulling one tidy wagon full of REI gear. Who can blame him?

11. Wait while the volunteer at the visitor center finds your reservation and, apparently, encounters a computer for the very first time.

12. Pay $20 to have your four heaviest bags schlepped to your campsite by a forest service truck. Carry three sleeping bags, one Lightning McQueen suitcase, and two small bags over hilly terrain to a cluster of campsites.

13. Walk and walk and answer the question “What those buoys do?” at least 38 times. Snap at your son. Consider, not for the first time, that you would fare poorly in a death-march type of situation.

14. Admire the sparkling coastline and tell your spouse how happy you are to be here, in hopes of making up for what a nightmare you were on the boat, and then again five minutes ago.

Photo by Alberto Vega

15. Enter your tent-cabin–this is fancy camping, with a paid sherpa truck and a rented propane stove, so don’t get a big head about roughing it–and collapse onto a cot. Sob a little. Text your friends: The schlepping, the schlepping (to the tune of “the horror, the horror”). Why do people camp? Whyyyyy? This feels like Christmas, where you work your ass off at work so you can work your ass off on “vacation,” BUT WITHOUT A SINK. 

16. Consider the skills you’ve acquired since becoming a parent: being comfortable with dirt, making do, improvising, packing and unpacking diaper bags and daycare bags. Consider how they position you to be a good camper, and simultaneously make camping seem like the dumbest white-person idea ever.

17. (You are a white person, though right now you feel like your primary identity is Schlepper American.)

18. Feed your child a graham cracker while you wait for your bags to arrive. Of course the ones that aren’t here contain all the other too-much food.

19. Nap on top your sleeping bag while your spouse takes your son back to the visitor center to check on the status of your bags. Remember how good it feels to nap outdoors. Or sort of outdoors. Vow for the sixth time today to never complain again.

20. Remember another glorious nap like this, back when you were a camp counselor in college, mom-for-the-week to a bunch of eight-year-olds in foster care who were too young to be at sleepaway camp, really, and too traumatized by life not to run into the woods at night, even though the head counselors promised you no kid would run into the woods at night. That was your first taste of this kind of exhaustion–the kind that comes from caring for someone else’s body, soul, and tennis shoes. On the fourth day in the woods, you finally got a shower and a nap, and you lay on your bunk in the sunshine and felt good in a way that can only come after hard and bad.

20. Wake up to the sound of rain and the sight of your soggy spouse and son. “They said they already delivered our bags, to the drop-off point.”

21. Discover that the drop-off point is fifteen feet from your tent-cabin. Your bags are there, and wet.


22. Celebrate the arrival of your friend, the one who knows how to camp, who shows up full of energy, telescope in hand, late Friday night.

23. Saturday morning, visit the beach with your son while your spouse and friend sleep. Find shells and coral and crab claws and gold plastic coins. Compare them in your mind to urban things: turbans and macaroni and oven mitts and gold plastic coins. Lately your son has been asking things like “Who made me? Who made buses and trees?” Earlier this morning, at the campsite, he held a rectangle of cheddar cheese to his ear like a phone.

24. Hike into town for lunch and more beach. Watch a 5K kick off with an explosion of decade-old pop songs. The theme is Xanadu. The young woman leading the warm-up wears her hair in a French braid and glitter on her eyelids. 

25. Watch a man with intentional stubble, wearing the bottom half of a wetsuit, operate a drone. He directs a tan woman in a neon yellow bikini to lay down in the surf and sort of writhe in slow motion while he photographs her.

26. Remember you’re only 26 miles from LA.

27. When the sun goes down, fight the wind and build a fire. Or rather, watch as your spouse builds a fire. Make couscous in the dark and smother it with parmesan cheese. When she says, “This is great, you can make this at home anytime,” know that camp is working its magic again. Gummy couscous only tastes this good when you are tired from being tossed in the waves and watching Instagram photo shoots.

28. Look through your friend’s telescope at the pockmarked moon.

Photo by Alberto Vega

29. Try to care about astronomy when you really just want to read the Mary Higgins Clark mystery you borrowed from the camp laundry room. It’s about the murder of a beautiful young woman, which can only be solved by a woman who is slightly less young but equally beautiful.


30. Give your spouse her Mother’s Day gift, an REI gift card to show that you support her enthusiasm for this camping thing, even though you griped every time a new camping doodad showed up in the mail.

31. When she says, “I wanted to get you something, but you’re always saying how we should spend less money,” think about how this is like “The Gift of the Magi.” At least you didn’t chop off your hair.

32. Schlep your stuff back to the dock. Your bags slightly lighter, now that all that couscous is in your stomach.

33. This time on the boat, order a beer.

34. Never complain again.*

*Or do.

Tags: , , , , ,

About the Author

Cheryl Klein’s column, “Hold it Lightly,” appears monthly(ish) in MUTHA. She is the author of Crybaby (out in 2022 from Brown Paper Press), a memoir about wanting a baby and getting cancer instead. She also wrote a story collection, The Commuters (City Works Press) and a novel, Lilac Mines (Manic D Press). Her stories and essays have appeared in Blunderbuss, The Normal School, Razorcake, Literary Mama, and several anthologies. Her MUTHA column “Onesie, Never Worn” was selected as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2022. She blogs about the intersection of art, life and carbohydrates at breadandbread.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter: @cherylekleinla.

Leave a Reply

Any comments left on this article will be sent directly to its author. We do not at this time publicly display comments. (If you want to write a public post about this article, we encourage you to do so on social media). We love comments, feedback and critique but mean or snarky comments will not be shared and will be deleted.  

Your email address will not be published.

Back to Top ↑
  • Subscribe to Mutha

    Enter your email address to subscribe to MUTHA and receive notifications of new articles by email.

    Email Frequency