Listen, I wasn’t ready to be an empty-nester for at least another 10 years.
This is all messed up. The house is oddly quiet. We’ve been here without kids before but this is different.
Cassie the Dog doesn’t know what to make of all of it. She’s been sitting next to me, looking at the door, out the window, up at me. Even she is wondering what’s happening?
Camp happened. FOR EVERYONE.
If you need a refresher, you should read what I wrote last year. Same preparation, different year with one exception: This time its BOTH Julianna and Chloe. Yup. Both kids are off to overnight summer camp and I am mildly, if not slightly more than mildly, freaking out.
Leading up to this morning, everything went in a very similar fashion as last year. Julianna, a “camp pro” at this point, was “helpful” as we warmed Chloe up to her imminent departure to camp. Right from the start, Chloe was pretty gung ho and excited about the idea of going to camp. There would have been zero arm-twisting from us if we didn’t think she was ready. If you remember from last year, she was very active in helping Julianna make up her camp “area” which, at least in part, was the first sign of her own readiness. Chloe, however, is a different type of person than Julianna. Once she warms up to something, she’s usually totally fine but sometimes the unknown or unexperienced procedural stuff makes her nervous.
Julianna, always so excited to tell anyone about anything, has no problem telling marathon stories about “this” or “that” so any question that Chloe had (and there were many), Julianna was right there to give a dissertation on the subject. This worked as much for us as against us because Julianna has yet to acquire the conversational grace of talking to a nervous 8 year old and occasionally, perhaps, shares a bit too much information that might not be pertinent to the story.
“How does Boating and Canoeing work?” -Chloe
“Well…its awesome! [10 minutes of exposition] … and then we got to capsize!” -Julianna
Oh, wait…Chloe is now nervous about capsizing.
“Well girls, I’m sure you won’t capsize until and if everyone is ready.” -Me
“No, Dad, we ALL CAPSIZED!” -Julianna [excitedly]
“But maybe that’s just because you happened to be in a group where everyone is ready for capsizing.” -Me [lightly kicks Julianna under the table]
“Dad, why are you kicking me?” -Julianna
“I don’t want to talk about camp anymore.” -Chloe
And so on…
For the most part, however, Julianna was very helpful and given how much time the girls spend together, I’m sure she did much more good than harm.
And so onward with preparations we went.
We eventually found out that the girls, while in the same age group at camp (kids entering 3rd and 4th grades are grouped together – the youngest group), they would not be in the same cabin together (good). They would be near each other and do a lot of activities together but not sleep in the same cabin. Also, their older cousin would be 1 cabin down as well.
So all the preparation took place. We even scheduled a few playdates with some camp friends of ours who also have kids going to camp this summer. This way, everyone has some familiar faces when they arrive.
And this morning happened. We woke up at 6:00am and the first thing she says is:
“Dad, do you think I’ll have [this particular counselor] as one of my counselors?”
“Well, I guess there’s only one way to find out.”
My wife has been asking Chloe periodically what her “nervous number” was (1-10). It has gone up and down a bit but this morning, a clean “1” which is perfect, and likely a lie.
We hit the road.
Just like last year, we caravan with my sister and her family. We arrive at camp and are all very excited. We roll up to the cabins (plan is to unpack Chloe first and then move over to Julianna). We meet Chloe’s counselors (4 counselors for 8 kids – incredible). They all seem wonderful. They help us unload the car and my wife and Chloe start unpacking her and making up her bed. Julianna wants to go meet her counselors. She runs off. I’m not sure when she got so independent…maybe camp last year?
I decide to start bringing Julianna’s stuff to her cabin so she can start if she wants. I meet her counselors and they, too, seem great. She, with her counselors, helps me bring her stuff to her cabin. Both girls are in beds next to a counselor – which I like. She jumps right into unpacking herself with her counselors.
“Dad, you can go check on Chloe.”
Ah…what? You’re 9 and I’m already unwanted/unneeded? Bittersweet.
And back and forth we go. My wife and I, Chloe and Julianna: ping-ponging between the cabins helping each other, saying hello to friends, and generally holding it together.
At one point, I tell Chloe I’m gonna go check on Julianna and Mommy, does she want to come with me (we’re in her cabin)?
“No, I’ll stay here with my counselors.”
What in the hell is happening?
I go. We finish with all the settling in. Chloe tells me that we should just leave. She’s good and ready to “[do camp].”
Ah, well, ok. I guess that’s what we should do then.
I tell her we’re going to leave and just like that, she sort of folds up/hides into me. She doesn’t like people to see her cry. In that moment, she realized, “shit is about to go down!”
We walked outside. I see my wife and Julianna nearby and give the “adult eye/head nod signal” for “let’s get the F out of here.” and then have a quiet conversation with Chloe.
“Dad. I’m not ready for camp. Can I just come back next year?”
Ok. Here’s what you have to understand. I was a counselor for the youngest age group at camp for a long time. I dealt with a ton of kids who were going to overnight camp for the first time and for many, that first goodbye is really tough so I get it. I quietly say to Chloe:
“You are ready. I promise you’re ready. Here’s what’s going to happen: Your sister and cousin are gonna come over here. We’ll say goodbye and leave and you’ll run off and play. 5 minutes after we leave, you’ll be on your way doing camp like a boss.”
This isn’t a frantic cry from her so I know we’ll be ok. Her counselors are observing from a safe distance and, I can tell, on standby to jump in when I give the signal. Julianna and their cousin come over, also seeing what’s happening. They offer to get a deck of cards and play a game.
“We can play at your cabin or ours…whichever you’d like?”
The sky cleared up.
And with that, we said our goodbyes, and before we could start walking to our car, the 3 girls were running off to get the cards.
And now I’m home, my wife and I, the cat, and this confused dog.
Here’s the thing: This camp has given me more than I could ever repay. It, and its people, have done so much for me that I have, and will always, feel an endlessly deep sense of gratitude.
My wife comes from this place.
So many of my best friends come from this place.
Many of the times I’ve laughed the hardest come from this place.
My independence. My mad woodworking skills. My love of blueberry blintzes. My spirituality. They all come from this place.
And now, my daughters, are at this place.
I got home and immediately started refreshing the camp website to see if photos have been uploaded. I just need to see 1 picture of each of them to know that they are ok. I know from last summer, the letters we get won’t be incredibly informative and I just need to see, like last year, what my brain already knows:
This place that has nurtured me for close to 30 years in one form or another, is now doing the same for my daughters.
And so here I’ll be, pressing refresh on my browser, once or twice a minute, berating myself for being the parent I said I wouldn’t be. They’ll be fine.
They’ll be better than fine.
They’ll be campers.