The Mailbox Again

It has been almost 2 years since Chloe and Julianna have gone to overnight camp.

It has been roughly 1.5 years of us being together, all the time.

Because of COVID-19, their summer camp like so many others, was closed in the summer of 2020 but here we are.

Here. We. Are.

Today is drop-off day…but not like a normal drop-off day.

Because of COVID, the camp they attend has been forced to do things a bit differently. Remember, this is the same camp my wife and I both went to as kids; the same camp where I was the director; the same camp that has been part of my life for the past 33 years. Normally, a camper can choose to go to camp for 1 of the 3.5 week sessions or for all 7 weeks. Chloe and Julianna were both going for 7 weeks in previous summers. This summer, in order to space people out a bit more than you’d normally need, the camp is having kids who are Chloe and Julianna’s ages alternate sessions and can only be there for 3.5 weeks (which is a huge improvement over the 0.0 weeks last summer).

Because Chloe and Julianna are only 1 grade apart, they are “assigned” to different sessions this summer. Chloe is going to camp this morning. Julianna is going the 2nd session. That’s right: they aren’t going at the same time.

When we first found out about this, there were a lot of mixed emotions in our house: Chloe would get to be there with my nephew (who is 5 weeks younger than she is but in the same grade) as well as my niece (who is 2 years older than she is) but would not be there with Julianna. Julianna would get none of her family but would be with all of her camp friends. This seemed to be the best version of what was possible: Julianna is incredibly close with her camp friends. She talks to them most days and loves spending time with them. She’s a camp lifer and this, her 5th summer which would have been her 6th, is the summer where she will get her much anticipated “5 Year Coffee Mug.” Chloe has a smaller group of close camp friends and while she will txt with them, she’s not as “immersed” as Julianna.

Had the tables been turned and Julianna got to be there with her cousins and Chloe was just with her friends, it would have been a disaster for her; at least the build-up.

The night before camp has always been a bit of a challenge in our home, particularly for Chloe. She doesn’t typically show a lot of excitement about going to camp but we know, when she’s there, she has an awesome time. The night before, however, right before bed, she gets very nervous, anxious, and tells us she doesn’t want to go. This happened her first summer. It happened her second summer. It happened in 2019. It happened last night.

Last night was different though.

In previous years, she would never even want to talk about camp before we were in the car on our way up. This time though, while not overly interested in talking about camp, she was pretty open about being excited about it. The other day I asked her what she was most excited about:

“Getting away. Taking a break. Being with my camp friends.”

We have, like most families I assume, spent a LOT of time together since March of 2020. She’s a creature of habit and does not like her routine to change. A routine that has had SO much change in that time.

The changes have been vast including the routine of bickering with Julianna and collecting the awful Squishmallow stuffed animals. It includes spending every night at home with her parents and having sleepovers with her sister more often than not. It includes screen time and pool time. It includes choreographed TikTok dances and Instagram stories. It includes them laughing until their stomachs hurts and crying until their eyes are dried out. It includes contact lenses for Julianna, a growth spurt for Chloe. It includes braces for both of them and the the prologue to puberty. It includes being COVID vaccinated. It includes ignoring that I’m in a meeting and no, my coworkers on the Zoom and I don’t want to join you for a TikTok recording where we can all “shake our booties.”

So much has changed but what has been constant is presence. The presence of their family.

For Chloe, she’s never been away from the 3 of us. Julianna, being older, went to camp the first time with Chloe at home but it’s never been the other way around. I think this is what really hit her last night and I think it because she told me so. She knows that 2 of her cousins will be at camp but her sister won’t be. Julianna is her safety blanket.

Meanwhile, Julianna is going through her own struggle. She LOVES camp. She loves having Chloe around all the time. She loves her camp friends. She loves and feels so strongly and deeply that the idea that those same 2 cousins and her sister are going away for 3.5 weeks without her makes her feel alone. She knows that she also gets her turn to go and her summer is also going to be just as incredible but in the moment, it’s very challenging for her. I get it. She just wants to be there.

When we go to drive Chloe, Julianna will stay home. For Chloe, it’s a bandaid rip with drop-off. She even told us she’d like to say goodbye to us at home before we drive to camp (1.5 hours) so when we get there, she can just go. COVID has changed the format for drop-off this summer. Parents drop their kids and their stuff off near the main entrance and leave. There is no driving to the cabins and meeting the counselors and helping the kids unpack. Julianna coming with us, having to watch Chloe walk off and not being able to get out of the car will be torture for both of them and I’m not subjecting myself to having to watch that.

So now we’ll leave our house, with Julianna home, almost certainly crying on her own, as she watches her sister go away for 3.5 weeks. She even got a call last night from one of her closest camp friends, who is going to come over shortly after we leave, and who also has a younger sister going to camp, so they can be happy for their sisters and sad for themselves; together.

In 3.5 weeks we will go pick Chloe up and bring her home and for 3 days they will be reunited. They will go back to bickering a little and laughing a lot and annoying each other a little and still wanting to have sleepovers every opportunity. After those 3 days, Julianna will get her turn to go away for 3.5 weeks and we’ll do the whole thing again, in reverse.

None of this is ideal and all of this is worth it.

Camp, for me, represents one of the most influential and special places and times in my life. My wife, my best friends, the hardest I’ve ever laughed, my funniest and craziest stories, learning how to be independent, and learning how to be a good friend all happened at camp.

Chloe and Julianna are both getting their own version of that story and I could not be happier that they are starting to get back to some kind of normal for them, even if the ride is a bit more turbulent than previous years.

3 times a week, while at camp, the campers are required to write letters home to tell their families how it’s going. Here’s the thing: I know how it’s going. It’s camp. If there was ever a real problem, someone from camp would call me. I’m not at all concerned that there will be a problem and I have complete trust in the staff at camp to provide an incredible and safe experience for my daughters and for all the other kids.

Doesn’t matter.

I’ll still be waiting at our mailbox, every day, when Rick the Mailman drives by, to see if there’s an envelope addressed to Mom & Dad because it’s not just Chloe or Julianna’s routine that is changing.

It turns out that I’m going to miss them, one at a time, too.