“I’m sorry,” I said. I felt bad, like I was talking to a boy in high school rather than the owner
of my daughters’ overnight camp. We were standing at the buses. I’d walked over to Gabe to say hello, as I always do. But unlike the previous five years, our arrival this year had not been proceeded by a phone call, or as in our earliest years, a series of them. The age of your daughter, it turns out, is inversely proportional to the amount of time you spend bugging Gabe. “I thought about calling,” I told him, “but I didn’t have anything to talk about.”
Who’d ever have thought? Once upon a time, we talked constantly, a relationship born out of desperation as my daughter was the poster child of homesick campers. She spent her rest periods at the homesick book club. She spent her evenings in tears and her project periods—according to her twin sister—wandering aimlessly around the camp. Her afternoons were often spent next to Gabe in his office, where he has a supply of toys for kids like my daughter who have trouble letting go of home.
At first, I was hesitant to call. I’m not a meddler by nature. (Honestly Gabe, I’m not). You never want to be that parent, the one who sends their kid off only to constantly check on her. But she was missing from pictures and her letters said, “Call camp immediately!”
“Don’t worry,” he’d tell me. “We’ve seen worse.” I couldn’t imagine how much worse it could be. As all parents know, you are only as happy as your least happy child, so I was as sick at home as she was at camp. He promised me she was fine, and encouraged me to call whenever I wanted. So I did.
And I never stopped. The homesickness went away, but I found others reasons (okay, excuses). Cabin placement was my go to. “My girls want to be together first session but not second.” “My girls requested the same friends, but dis-requested each other.” Could I have let the cabin chips fall where they may? Yes. I don’t involve myself in their social lives at home. But, I rationalized, the twin situation is sticky, I better call Gabe. This nonsense went on for five years. At least two times a season—a discussion per session.
Until this year, we came to the end. My daughters are now in BLT. They are Basic Lower Tamaracks (the second to oldest campers). Tamaracks live with their entire age group in one cabin. One inconceivably long, atrociously crowded, insanely loud and fantastically cluttered cabin. The type of living quarters that will give anyone over 40 hives, but to a 14-year-old is heaven on earth.
It is, I see now, a win-win-win. The girls get to all be together. The parents get to look at the posting of the cabin pictures without knots in theirs stomachs. Gabe gets to stop fielding calls from mothers like me, which frees up time in his schedule for all the newer, younger parents whose calls are about the needs of their children rather than about themselves. Because, let’s face it, my phone calls at some point became about me rather than my kids, about wanting to hang on and learning to let go.
So many articles are written about the benefits of overnight camp to kids. But none seem to discuss the benefits to the parents, too. I’m not talking about the break we get during the time our kids are away. (Although I admit that the older they get, the nicer it is.) But rather the forced separation, the life apart. I think that the terrifying-at-first taste of what life might be like when your nest empties, as inevitably it will, is as useful to us as going away is to our kids. When our girls go off for good, not only will they be able to say, “I’ve lived on my own before, I can do it now,” but so too will we.
Still, as Gabe told me years ago during my daughter’s homesickness, getting there is a process. It’s measured in babysteps, perceptible sometimes only in retrospect. Every year, the scene at the bus grows less traumatic. Every year, the need to check the camp photos grows less obsessive. Whereas I once dreaded when my kids went on cabin trips because they’d be out of photos for a few days, I now welcome the break. It’s just one less thing to do.
That’s not to say I’m ready to cut the cord. Last week I saw a picture of my daughter with a pack on her back, apparently headed to Isle Royale for a seven day hiking trip. I was shocked. Not because this was the girl who once wouldn’t leave Gabe’s office (though kudos to her), but because this was the wrong girl. The right girl, her sister, the one who’d brought hiking boots and yakked about this trip all winter—didn’t get picked to go. I imagine her disappointment, her frustration with her sister. In past years, I would have picked up the phone to explain the injustice. But I’m not going to do it. I’m done calling Gabe.
I’ll wait instead ’til I see him on visiting day.
*This piece originally appeared earlier this summer on the Camp Birch Trail blog : )