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Essay: Camping With the Reluctant Camper


To some people, camping is the ultimate getaway. Lake Effect essayist Meagan Schultz is not one of these people. 
“We’ve never done this before,” my husband said to me with obvious reluctance. “Why don’t we just try one night and see how it goes?”

I agreed, because I wanted him to be happy and I really wanted to do this. But I knew how it would turn out with only one night. I knew that setting up a tent, and blowing up air mattresses, and setting up a camp kitchen in the dry, ninety degree central California heat only to take it all back down in less than twenty-four hours was a ridiculous idea. But he was hedging his bets, saving his get-out-of-jail-(I mean campground)-free card, just in case. 

It all seems rather foreboding now. 

Did he know that our three year old would puke all over himself and every possible crevice of the carseat minutes after the last bag had been packed in the rental and we were about to hit the road? Or that our five year old would spike a 102 fever the night before? Did he know that the lake would be stricken with blue-green algae, or that the sign at the park entrance would read “dogs and infants are advised to keep out of the water”? Did he know the lifeguards would shout through the megaphone that no floaties were allowed in the lake on weekends just minutes after we’d finished blowing up the life-sized manta ray? Did he know that the tent my dad borrowed from his friends for our family of four would come without instructions because they’d lost them on their honeymoon back in 1979, the last time they set the damn thing up? Did he know that our three year old would later break out in a terrible rash from the ‘natural’ sunscreen I bought at Whole Foods (or was it the dairy? Or maybe the gluten?) and that he would have to leave dinner and drive twenty minutes back to town for a bottle of children’s Zyrtec? I know, I know. All that was terrible. 

But - I’d like to ask him - wasn’t it fun to wake up in each others arms because we’d sunk to the middle of the mattress overnight? When was the last time we got that close in our king-sized bed where we lay continents apart divided by an ocean of pillows? And wasn’t it fun to watch our boys play with sticks, and hunt for frogs, and stare in wonderment at a beetle the size of their hands? Didn’t he love watching the joy on their faces when they squeezed marshmallows and chocolate between two graham crackers, or when they looked up to see the first star in the sky overhead? All the things we never do in our city life. 

“If I ever do this again, it’s because I love you and I know it means a lot to you,” he said to me as we were leaving the campground after breakfast, an hour before the official check out time.

I know he was not in his favorite element, that he doesn’t like to be dirty, or hot, or tired. I know he’d prefer a hotel pool and a tab at the bar because he works 60 hours a week and doesn’t want to spend his weekend sweating over manual labor.

But sometimes I miss the zone just beyond comfort, the one that directly correlates fear with fun, and risk with reward. I hope we don’t forget about that zone as we settle into middle age. Or raise kids who play it safe while their curiosities are wiped out like the dinosaurs who tower in the stale museum air. 

“We definitely made some memories,” he said as we rehashed the camping trip back at my parents’ house on their firm guest bed beneath crisp white sheets. “Maybe we can get a bigger tent and the boys and I can try sleeping in the back yard this summer.” The lights were out so he couldn’t see me smile. 

Attaboy, I thought, attaboy. 

Meagan Schultz is a mother and writer living on the East Side of Milwaukee with her husband and two young boys. She recently fixed up her basement and fashioned a small space for a writing desk where Legos are not allowed.