Thursday, August 16, 2007

Summer Camp

My daughter has been away for 2 weeks. Well, almost 2 weeks. She decided, back in the late Fall, that she wished to attend sleepaway camp for a limited time this year. She approached me with the proposition, and we agreed that if we could locate a suitable place with a reasonably short session, she could go.

We both assumed the short session was the way to go. For her part, she's really a Mommy's girl. As the de facto only child of "older" parents, you'd expect that. Her siblings are adults. She has a princess lifestyle -- a great school, a big room, her own bathroom, and working guilty parents. Her favorite words to us, to date, are "cuddle me." And we do. I still tuck her in at night. I wondered, seriously, if she was going to last more than a few days at camp. "Mom, I am perfectly capable of putting myself to bed. I just prefer if you do it." Putting me at ease.

We research, because that's what we do in this house. We find camps, get brochures and DVDs. After a few months, she tells me casually she would like to look up a camp she's heard about from some of her tennis friends. This is when I realize I've been had. She's wanted this camp all along, but thought she might need to get me used to the idea of her being away from me. (She has a way of doing this. She got me to buy her a cellphone by accepting my initial refusal with grace, and then finding a reason to call me from school or some practice on a borrowed phone every single school day for six months).

We look into it. It's perfect. On 600 acres in the mountains, an easy four-hour drive away all girls. An unbelievable staffer to camper ratio of 1 to 4. They have everything, but it's best known as a riding camp. Horses -- a hobby I fear to the bottom of my checkbook. Every kid rides every day, the camp raises its own horses, and new riders have their own instructor. The same price as other, tackier camps. They have a minimum session of 2 weeks, which my husband convinces me is better than the few tacky camps we can find with a 1 week minimum, because 1 week is insufficient to become homesick and get over it. I concede defeat, and think in a vague way about losing my little girl for 2 weeks.

We stayed calm about it for months. About 2 weeks before, I thought we should look at the packing list. From that point forward, my daughter took over. She took ownership of the project. I obtained a trunk, but she gathered the items on the list. She ironed in her name labels. She reminded me when we needed a few things to run out for them. She packed every item, beautifully. I am nearly superfluous. I've been had, again.

She was too excited to sleep the night before. She text messages her dad and me that she loves us and will miss us that night. (The camp disallows cell phones). She tells me she wanted us to have it in writing. We arrive at the place and it's more beautiful than pictures allow. You drive in past pastures with more horses in them than I've ever seen in one place. The mountains rise gently behind the pastures. The horses glisten -- healthier or more well cared for beasts I've never seen. The barns are gorgeous -- like Shaker carpentry -- all beautifully colored wood and well constructed. We park in the vast area separated into lacrosse fields/soccer fields/field hockey fields. Men come with trucks to take the luggage to her cabin (cause it's all color coded with the stickers we got.) Past the 4 lovely Har-Tru tennis courts and up a beautifully manicured path past rolling lawns to a post and beam welcome center. Counsellors with British accents direct the way to her cabin. Her dad takes her while I check in at the nurse's station. I meet the camp owner, who is, of course, a former Philadelphia lawyer. We talk shop and common connections.

After 15 minutes, I'm done. I go to the cabin. My daughter, who has made her bed 5 times in the last 5 years, has unpacked, selected a bunk, made it, and decorated around it. Her dad stands outside the small cabin. Her tennis friends, older and in larger digs, show up to make sure she's okay. She's trilling with excitement. They leave. The counsellor talks with us about her background (scenery design for theater) and then the girls are out front making decorations. Inside of another 15 minutes, we are forgotten. We tell her we may as well walk around and she says she'll stay with her unit. She's already absorbed. She kisses us warmly, we say we'll see her. She's thrilled to be in the world of no parental units at last.

The camp doesn't allow calls and restricts email, but encourages old-fashioned letter writing. We get a few missives: "first day was really really great. I'll need to buy stamps because of the 'left the stamps in car' tragidy." Next: "it's really hot, but somewhat better now, as I've managed to get for myself a portable fan." (Note the 19th century word order.) "MY horse's name is Sugar Pot. I really lvoe riding, and would like to do a special riding camp, or just ride now and again." Then: "I love you. But I've made tons of friends, and I've not been homesick at all." The sword to my heart. On the one hand, I'm thrilled she's so secure, on the other, I wonder why she doesn't miss me more.

Back at home, we pine for a day or so. Then go out to dinner, movies, have loud sex and play tennis at night. No sitters. Hmmmm. This is all so "pre-kid"! Still, the house is really empty, especially on weeknights. I begin to watch the Disney Channel, and wonder how High School Musical 2 is going to be.

Tomorrow, we go to fetch her, after we spend a night in a lovely B&B just down the road. I suspect I'm going to find a more mature person than the one who was already growing before my eyes. It's hard for both of us to let go of her young childhood, but we both know we have to. I hope, though, that when she sees us on Saturday, she'll have a chance to grab onto it again, at least for a minute.


We had the beautiful drive in mountains. The B&B is a late 18th century house, with some mid 19th century additions, on 23 acres with sheep, stocked ponds and the stereotpyical talkative retired hosts. We spend a night on the squeaky mattress and wait until we won't look like we are the very first people to arrive. We scamper to check her out, rush up the path to the cabin and catch her playing tether ball. She sees us and her face drops. "Can you leave and come back?" are her first words to us. Within a minute, she's sorry she said that, but she's still got to be pried from the doorway of the cabin. Her mood stank for the rest of the day. Only after a full night's sleep did we resume something like our old routine. But she's different. I sent away a little girl, and I got back a preteen. I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't terrified.