Unhappy Camper

My mother and I walked the three blocks to the meeting place that Friday afternoon. I wore my usual jeans, sneakers, and a light jacket, all suitable for Girl Scout camping in the spring. My mother, volunteering as a chaperone, wore her light blue trench coat and one of the few pairs of pants she owned. She sniffed and dabbed at her running nose with a tissue in one hand, while the other arm clutched her bedroll and her sack supper that she’d put in a beaded shopping bag made of pink plastic netting, with handles for easy carrying.

My back tensed as we approached the gathering group of girls and our leader, nicknamed Nuke. I was only still in Girl Scouts as a seventh grader because of Nuke. She made meetings fun, took us to camp, was stern when needed, but genuinely seemed to like hanging out with a bunch of adolescent girls. I set my bedroll down next to her daughter, Missy.

“Your mom came,” Missy said.

“Yeah.” My shoulders slumped.

“I love your mom. She’s so nice.” Missy smiled.

I looked toward Mom, standing talking to Nuke, her blond head leaning in toward Nuke’s brown pinned-up braid. I loved my mom too. But at home. Not out camping for the first time in her life, with her pink beaded shopping bag. I sighed. Maybe it would be all right.

It was almost dark by the time the bus dropped us off at camp. We dropped our sack suppers on a picnic table. Then we paired up to head to our tents scattered in the woods and lay out our bedrolls before the last of the light faded. My friend and I brushed leaves and dirt off the wooden floor of the tent and were about to head out to eat when we heard a screech. It sounded an awful lot like my mother.

I rushed toward her voice. There was my mom, looking up in a tree and yelling.

“Hey! Give that back!”

Above her, the pink shopping bag dangled from a branch, while a raccoon reached inside, grabbing bits of her sandwich.

The raccoon won. Nuke and I shared our dinner with Mom and our group settled around picnic tables to eat. We sat around talking, but soon Nuke sent us to bed. The real fun of camping would start early.

The next morning, we started a fire, cooked pancakes for breakfast, cleaned up, and hiked in the woods. Nuke supervised, but the work was ours. One of the girls blared a transistor radio playing top 40’s music as we washed up. I waited for Mom to ask her to turn it down, but she said nothing.

The day flew by. That night I breathed a sigh of relief as we sat beneath the stars around a crackling fire, making s’mores and singing camp songs.

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me….”

The weekend was almost over and no more Mom catastrophes.

Sunday morning after breakfast we sat in the sun with the radio blaring again, while we waited for the bus to pick us up. Mom cocked her head listening.

“You know, some of this music isn’t bad.”


Now that I’m well on the other side of being the embarrassing mom, I see that weekend from a different perspective.

I asked my introverted, book-loving Mom once why she went on that camping trip, when she was so clearly out of her element.

She shrugged. “They needed a volunteer.”

Now I look back and see the lilacs blooming that my mother was horribly allergic to. She dressed for the trip the best way she could. These were the clothes she had and money wasn’t plentiful. The goofy pink bag made sense. It was hard to carry everything and blow your nose at the same time.

That weekend she shared a tent with Nuke, who didn’t like the way the bugs clung to the roof for warmth. So, they slept with all four flaps rolled to the top all night and Mom froze.

She had grown up in an era and town where they used an outhouse until midway through her childhood. Mom valued indoor plumbing.

Mom camped for the one and only time in her life because she loved me.



28 thoughts on “Unhappy Camper

  1. “I loved my mom too. But at home. Not out camping for the first time in her life, with her pink beaded shopping bag.” This fully captures that cringe of parents in public and it’s wonderful that you can overlay that now with being the embarrassing parent. Really enjoyed this.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Moms are the best, aren’t they! I see in my mom and my wife (mom to a rambunctious 5-year old!!) qualities that I know for a fact that I will never have! Your write-up was a sweet reminder that Moms deserve tons of respect and loads of love! Great job!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You were able show the effort your mom made while still showing how your younger self couldn’t appreciate it. Your use of color and imagery stood out. I did feel like you rushed through the end of the trip – maybe it either needed to be fleshed out more or cut somehow?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Naww…your Mum! I really loved the line “I loved my Mum too…but at home.” I could totally relate. I wonder if you even needed the last line because for me, your Mum’s love shone through the whole piece. Really loved it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The way you remember that event, through your adult eyes at the end, piecing details together that you were oblivious to at the time… just really touched my heart. Makes me want to hug my mom.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I really like the way you wove together your child- and adult-self perceptions of what your mother was doing and why. Probably you could have skipped the second-to-last paragraph: it summarizes a bunch of stuff the reader already knows, and feels more like the “here’s the end of the chapter, kids, get ready for your four quiz questions” section of a text than an integrated part of your essay.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Rowen. Glad you’re commenting tonight. I read your post about this very issue and knew I’m one of the guilty ones. It’s hard to let that go. Originally I thought about telling the whole story a second time from her point of view but that didn’t feel right either.

      Liked by 1 person

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