Finding the funny in parenthood before somebody loses an eye...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Happy Camper

I grew up going to camp.

Every summer my parents would put me and my older sister on a plane, without any adult supervision, to travel from Philadelphia to Boston.  From there we would embark on a three hour bus trip to Poland, Maine, and our summer home -- Tripp Lake Camp.

And we loved it. Two months of a friend-filled, activity-packed, bunk-based living interspersed with cookies and crappy meals -- the shared ingestion of which bound you eternally to your fellow campers.  (Anybody out there remember Hot Dog soup?  Point made...) 

We wanted to go to camp.  We loved going to camp.  We BEGGED to go to camp!  And I felt a little guilty about it.

I used to imagine my parents, saddened by our departure sitting quietly in front of the TV eating Swanson Frozen Dinners trying to fill the void.  How could they not miss me?  I mean, what were they supposed to do without me and my sister?  It was obvious their summer trips to Europe, Greece and Spain were feeble attempts to keep their minds off of us.  To give them something to do until my sister and I returned from camp to fill their lives with joy.

I looked forward to visiting day knowing they would be thrilled to see me.  They would break free of the crowds of other parents to find me and my sister and they would shower us with comic books, iced tea mix and gum.  We would proudly present them pinched clay ashtrays we made in Arts & Crafts (it was the 70's) and they would feel complete once again.

Of this, I was sure.

Until this year when I sent my own beloved, oldest daughter to sleepaway camp for two months.  We hugged goodbye on her bunk porch and I held back a torrent of tears as I smoothed down her hair and assured her she would have the time of her life.   And as I drove down the dusty, gravely path to the camp exit, leaving her in the distance with her sobbing bunkmates I felt like somebody had ripped my heart out of my body.  I cried for three days.

Then I "woke up."

Within a week, the advantage of temporarily having one less child around was apparent.  Less fighting, less complaining, more peace and quiet.  It was nice.  Really, really nice.  My eight year old twins were ecstatic to have me all to themselves and I didn't have to concern myself with the daily trials of "tweenhood" angst that had recently invaded our home because I knew my daughter was, as confirmed in her letters home, "having the time of her life."  

I found myself imagining what it would be like when my twins were ready to go to camp -- I could stay out late, travel abroad, maybe I'd take up yoga...

And that's when I had an epiphany.  My parents LIKED sending us to camp!  Sure they missed us (I think...), of course they worried about us (I hope...), but they partied.  I'm sure of it.  They traveled, they went out to fancy dinners, they stayed out late, smoked in the house putting out their piling cigarettes in our lovingly made pinched clay ashtrays, and quite possibly danced on our beds to celebrate our absence.

It all became clear.  My parents had fun while we were away.  And I'm a little resentful they let me feel so guilty for so long.  

Sleepaway camp is good for everybody!  Sure I miss my daughter.  Every day I run out to my mailbox to see if there's mail from her.  I send a steady stream of letters and care packages filled with magazines, Mad Libs and other small non-food related offerings that show I'm thinking about her.  And she believes I miss her (which I do). 

In fact, this weekend was visiting day and I broke from the crowd to find her.  As I hugged my surprisingly taller girl, I felt complete.  Even the twins hugged their sister and more surprisingly, she hugged them back.  We were a family.  A happy family.  I brought her magazines and gum, she gave me ceramic fish sculptures (ashtrays are so passé) and we all enjoyed each other's company.  

At the end of visiting day, as we drove back down the dusty, gravely road to the camp exit, my twins surprised me -- they BEGGED me to let them go to camp next summer.   They assured me they were ready to handle two months without me and informed me it was "time to let them go."

And it may well be.  I'll be sad to send off all three children to camp next year.  The house will be so quiet and saying goodbye will be really hard -- on me.  I'll wait by the mailbox for letters, I'll send a never-ending stream of care packages, and I'll think about how very much I miss my wonderful children.

On the flip side... I've always wanted to see Spain.

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