Three and a half weeks ago I wrote about dropping Julianna off at camp. It was her 1st day at overnight camp then. Three and a half weeks before that, I wrote about the final preparation for going to overnight camp. Today, I am writing about picking her up at camp. This, in essence, is the conclusion to the “Overnight Camp Trilogy.”
It has been an odd set of weeks without Julianna around. My wife was pregnant with her 3 months after we got married. She was then pregnant with Chloe 3 months after Julianna was born. Since those first 3 months of marriage, it’s been non-stop kid. Now, we were to experience life with just 1 kid in the house, who is pretty self-sufficient. When we got home that first day, the house was very quiet. The anticipation about learning how Julianna was doing was difficult to bare.
From my days as Director of the camp, we know lots of people who work there and figured we’d be getting updates. We have a strong sense of trust for the camp and the people who run it so I wouldn’t say we were worried about how great a time she was having but regardless, until we get some evidence, it doesn’t matter. Worry away.
It didn’t take long for us to hear that she was all smiles; that she had fallen right into the groove and was figuring it all out. I mean, holy shit, she’s 8 and “on her own” for three and a half weeks. It wasn’t long until the camp posted some pictures. Pictures are the wonderful and terrible all at once. They say that a picture is worth 1000 words. I’d say, for each picture, I could have written 10 times that. I found myself looking at the picture and trying to put the whole story together.
Is she ok?
Is she having fun?
Is this a happy moment?
Why is she wearing the same clothes again?
Why is she wearing her backup pair of glasses that we left with the nurses?
What was for lunch that day?
Are the other girls in the picture the people she’s becoming friends with?
Why is she not putting her hair up?
Did someone straighten her hair?
Where did she get that shirt?
Why is she wearing her last-night banquet dress to a normal meal mid-week?
And so on.
I think it’s going well. We eagerly await the first letter. The letter arrives and has no substantive information in it. This is perfect and terrible. I need some answers and details but the lack of anything “too big” or “too small” typically means she’s “too busy” having fun and is writing because she has to, not because she wants to.
The first week goes by. I’ve been sending letters via the online “camp email” system pretty much every day. The camp prints them out and delivers them daily. My wife is sending letters the old fashioned way. Together, we are bombarding her with correspondence. Even Chloe is getting in on the action. She’s writing her own letters and not allowing us to read them. I’m sure there’s some secret plot afoot.
Each time I write, I’m asking things based on what I see in the pictures or at the very least, asking easy questions to hopefully entice her to GIVE ME SOME FUCKING DETAILS!
Instead of details, we get a letter that includes:
“I’m having a lot of fun without you. No offense.”
Meanwhile, this video pretty much sums up how I spend my days (nsfw):
So we keep on trucking along. Chloe is being an absolute angel. We’re having a great time at home. We reorganize things. We rearrange rooms. We play games. We have a general good time. She goes to stay with my parents for a few days. She goes to horseback riding camp for a week. She goes to stay with my in laws for a few days. It’s all good.
As we get beyond the week mark, I start to write things like, “I can’t believe it’s already been a week. It looks like you’re having an awesome time. Wait until you get to [fill in the camp activity].”
“I can’t believe it’s already been 2 weeks. We love and miss you but know you’re having an awesome time so keep on doing that.”
At this point, Chloe, who I’ve mentioned in the past is a bit like a cat in terms of emotional accessibility, is starting to show signs of actually missing her sister. She won’t really admit it but I notice that the picture she has on her bookshelf, of her with Julianna, is now facing her bed and I catch her staring at it now and then. She asks me questions like, “Is it the same time at camp as it is here?” “What do you think Julianna is doing right now?”
She’s thinking about her sister.
Meanwhile, we’re continuing to periodically get letters with no useful information in them.
“I had ceramics today. Gotta go.”
Thanks. That’s very helpful but I already know what your schedule is. I continue to tell myself this is exactly the kind of letter we should be getting. She never mentions wanting to come home or really any sort of beyond-innocuous “missing of home” in her letters. She’s just fulfilling her letter-writing requirements. I suppose I’ll need to get my information elsewhere.
And then Thursday (3 days ago) rolled around. That would be the last day I would write a letter. The letter gets delivered the next day and they don’t deliver mail on Saturdays and we were picking her up on Sunday. This time, I wrote what I had been attempting to avoid previously: any mention of us coming to pick her up and any mention of the end of her session. I didn’t want her thinking about the end. I wanted her to focus on having the best possible time each day while she was there.
We were all excited to go today. We woke up early and hit the road. When you get to camp, there’s a line of cars waiting to get in. The parents need to settle up for any expenses incurred during the summer (for instance, Julianna purchased deodorant from the camp’s canteen), pick up any medications from the nurses, etc.
And so we headed off to the cabin where Julianna was. The cars are moving at a painful pace. I suppose it’s probably a good idea to go slow with all the kids running around and the counselors transporting luggage into cars and so forth but still…I know she’s “just over there” and these last few minutes are taking forever.
We get close to her cabin and there she is, with a giant smile on her face and a plate of cupcakes. Yes, a plate of cupcakes. We pull over and Chloe, of all people, bolts to Julianna because she wants the first hug. It’s absolutely adorable. We all get our hugs in and start to load the car. She seems older. She seems bigger. I can almost smell more independence on her (or three and a half weeks of dirt).
Her new friends are all coming over and giving her hugs and saying their goodbyes. I can’t believe, but I totally can believe, that she has made all these friends. We decide to take a walk with her to say goodbye to her camp-assigned “big sister,” who is a member of the oldest girls’ cabin (a 15 year old) who we’ve seen in a bunch of pictures and who seems like an incredible person. We have to walk by all the girls’ cabins and all along the way, counselors and campers are saying goodbye to her. I mean, how does she know all these people? How is it possible that in three and a half weeks, she’s formed this many connections? She and Chloe can not stop holding hands.
Julianna is walking through camp with the look on her face that I’ve seen and felt a thousand times: I’m excited to go home but miserable to leave. I’m exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time. I can see on her face that she’s “this close” to tears but trying not to cry. She is soaking it all in and it’s surreal. I’ve watching many campers, counselors, and myself go through this rapid emotional roller coaster.
We finish our walk, say goodbye to her big sister, and walk back to the car. More goodbyes along the way. I see the look in her face again, this time slightly different: “It’s a lot to process. I’m ready to go.”
And so we go.
Before we can get out of camp, she says, “I’m coming to camp next summer for 7 weeks.”
I can’t even begin to express how proud I am of her. I had no doubt that she would be a camp champion but to see it actually happen was something special.
And so now we’re home, trying to unpack it all. I’m still working on getting details while I try to not overwhelm her with questions.
I may or may never know all the stories but I’ll for sure know the most important one, which I can see in her eyes:
She has acquired a second home. The same second home that my wife and I both acquired years ago.
I have previously written that her story was about to begin. It has.
Only 340 days until next summer.