FLINT - My sons and I decided to go camping recently. The lovely yet formidable Marcia and our teenage daughter said they preferred to stay home and have a girls' weekend.
"OK, but you're going to miss all the fun," I said as I tromped down to the basement to locate all the camping gear.
Two hours later, I had found, assembled, repaired and cleaned everything, except for those things that I couldn't find, repair or clean, which was just about everything. (Apparently "someone" forgot to clean what looked like tomato soup out of the camp pot after our last trip five years ago, but in my defense I distinctly recall vowing never to camp again after "The Great Monsoon of '06," as the trip has come to be known in family lore, so what did it matter?)
"I have to go to the store to buy new gear," I called into the family room, where the girls were finishing a movie and an enormous bowl of popcorn. "You're really going to regret not going, I'm telling you!"
"Mwwom flumpf fllrp," they said, which I took to mean, "How right you are, esteemed father/husband."
When I returned with $200 worth of stuff, the girls were finishing their second movie as they painted one another's toenails.
"Look at them, boys," I said to the boys. "Why, they're so bored already that they're reduced to grooming one another. What a dull and unproductive activity."
So we went and packed the minivan. Ninety minutes later - after settling two squabbles, bruising a fingernail in a battle with an uncooperative bike rack, and unpacking then repacking the entire van after we realized we weren't sure if we'd packed the camp stove - we trudged back inside exhausted, sweaty, but trembling with anticipation.
"Are you sure you don't want to come?" I said to the girls, who were busy scrapbooking, having tea and snort-laughing about something. "I know how lonely you get without me and the boys here."
Apparently they didn't hear me over their hilarity, so I helpfully repeated myself: "I said, are you SURE you don't want to come? I know how lonely and blue you two get when we're not around."
"Oh, didn't hear you come in," said Marcia, looking up from her tea. "What's that you said?"
"Never mind," I muttered. "Well, we're off to bed. Gotta get an early start."
"'Night," the girls said. "We'll be up after the cookies come out of the oven."
"You made us cookies?" I said. "How sw--"
"Well, not really. They're for lunch with friends tomorrow. But if there are any left you can have them when you get back."
In the morning, we rose early, gulped a quick breakfast and hit the road for the great outdoors, arriving at our campground after only four stops to pick up things we suddenly remembered we had forgotten, like food, water, lighters, propane and firewood.
My 12-year-old son was immediately awed by nature.
"Dad, how come everyone else here has a big camper or RV and we only have this stupid tent?" he said. "Look, that one has a satellite dish."
"Ah, but I'll bet it only gets a few channels," I said. "Besides, that's not what we're here for. We're here to experience nature in all its glory."
"Ow!" he said, slapping at a piece of nature the size of Cessna. "That's, like, 12 times already!"
"Hey, can we turn the tent so I can watch the game?" said his brother.
Nature, by the way, arrived at about 10 p.m. when a massive thunderstorm moved through, dumping an inch of rain.
"You should see it," I hollered to Marcia on my cell phone. "It's really quite a storm. Bet you wish two you were here to see it!"
"Gosh, us, too," she said. "If there's one thing I love, it's a good deluge when we're camping. But we're drowning our sorrows with Jane Austen movies and a gigantic pizza."
I could feel their pain, the poor girls. But that's women for you. They just don't know a good time when they see one. Perhaps, though, I thought, it was selfish of us to be enjoying camping so much when they were home having such an awful time.
I pondered that notion for a clap of thunder or two then finally I couldn't bear the pain any longer.
"Maybe we should go home early," I suggested to the boys, who were bailing the tent from atop their air mattresses, which were now floating, while formations of mosquitoes circled their heads. "You know, to comfort them."
Oddly enough, they agreed.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.