It has been 3 years since both Chloe and Julianna have been able to go to overnight camp together. Today, they return, at the same time, to camp.
Today, they go away for 7 weeks.
Maybe you’re reading this and you’re in your car, with your kid in the backseat and no visibility out the rear window because it’s blocked by duffle bags and crates and sleeping bags. That’s probably what I’m doing while you’re reading this. I’m writing this last night while we all wait anxiously for a hopeful video for each of the girls from their respective groups of bunk counselors; while my wife and I wonder if we forgot anything. The car is packed and so are our brains and hearts.
Everyone is ready to go…and also not.
The camp is on high COVID alert and is working hard to manage any potential infections and hopefully prevent any sort of spread. I had COVID a few weeks ago so Chloe and Julianna have been getting PCR tested pretty much every 2 or 3 days for 2 weeks in preparation for an ”all-clear” to arrive at camp.
Two summers ago, in 2020, there was no camp. COVID was just getting started. Last summer, camp happened but in an augmented way to allow kids to return, but in a limited fashion. The result of that was a limited number of spots at camp, and therefore, most campers were only allowed to attend one of the two 3.5 week sessions as opposed to the full 7 weeks. For us, that meant Chloe went the first 3.5 weeks and Julianna went the second 3.5 weeks. While everyone was filled with anticipation last year and the girls were certainly ready for a break from me, the summer had a rocky start.
Chloe had a really difficult time finding her groove for the first week without having Julianna there. The funny thing is, like many siblings who are so close in age (and many siblings in general), they bicker quite a bit and at camp, they don’t really spend much time together. That being said, just knowing that Julianna is there is a huge comfort for Chloe and that ”safety blanket” wasn’t available. She eventually settled in and in general would tell you that it was a great time.
Julianna, on the other hand, jumped right back in with no problem. She’d live at camp all year with her friends if given the option.
This summer, though, even with the COVID precautions, feels closer to ”normal.”
Chloe has expressed a genuine excitement to go to camp and Julianna, well, like I said, she’d live there all year. Just to back up for a moment…
My wife and I, we met at this camp back in the 1900s. I’ve mentioned that before. I’ve continued to be involved for over 30 years. She stopped being involved in the 90s but when she and I reconnected, she got pulled back in like Michael Corleone. Now, we work together each summer to produce the camp yearbook. The typical plan is for us to go visit camp each Sunday to check in with the photographer and make sure things are going as planned.
3 summers ago, Chloe would get upset each time we would come to camp. She was happy to see us but upset to see us leave. It was like restarting each week. Eventually, I told her we wouldn’t be coming up, which she agreed was the right idea, but I would go up anyway, and sneak into the office to get photos or whatever I needed before sneaking out again. Given there was no camp in 2020 and last summer, because of COVID, there were no outside visitors, we haven’t had to deal with this in a while.
In preparation for this summer, we asked her if she wanted us to come up on Sundays like we used to and she has given a resounding yes; with confidence.
So I’ve been trying to figure out how this is going to go and call me an optimist, but I have a good feeling and here’s why:
There are a few things that happened in the past year that give me that hope and optimism. First, Chloe is a year older and that always helps. Second, given her age (13), she has spent the last year going to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs pretty much every weekend (including her own with Julianna). These have been mostly with her camp friends. While at the beginning of the cycle, she was not psyched to go to any, she eventually learned how much fun they were. These have been almost weekly opportunities to hang out with a lot of her camp friends and brought them all closer.
Then there’s the big one: contact lenses. Here’s what you have to know: Chloe has had glasses since she was 3, or, before she was old enough to really remember NOT having glasses. She could barely see without them. In the past year, Julianna got contact lenses. She, unlike Chloe, can function without glasses but wanted contacts. Chloe has a stronger prescription and at first, contact lenses weren’t an option, but she was patient and persistent. She had been making TikToks for a while without her glasses on. I’m not entirely sure how since she can’t really see without the glasses but what was clear is that she wanted people to be see her without them.
It took us 3 visits to the eye doctor to practice putting the contacts in and taking them out but I’ll never forget the look she gave me the first time she got them in. You know those videos of babies hearing for the first time? It was that. There was a magical joy in her face when she turned to look at me, and then to a sign on the wall that she could read. She was determined to make it work.
The next day she went to school with her contacts but asked that I drive her, rather than take the bus, because I think she wanted to make a big entrance. Almost none of her friends have seen her without glasses. I don’t know if it’s the growth spurt that she’s going through (4” this year – and another confidence booster for her) or if her posture got a bit better with the contacts in, but either way, she clearly has more confidence now.
Perhaps it’s not the greatest thing to tie your self-confidence to something like wearing glasses or not, or being a little bit taller, but I have to be honest: I’ll take it. We all need a boost now and then and if this is hers, and gives her a little more strength, a little less insecurity, a little more ability to cope with some of the things that make her anxious, I’ll take it.
All of that is what makes me feel like this summer, at least the beginning homesick part, might be a little different. Maybe.
Now, I’m also not afraid to say that I’m psyched that they are going for 7 weeks. Please don’t take this the wrong way. I love my daughters and love spending time with them. I’m also a pretty independent person and like pretty much all of us parents, my wife and I haven’t had much down time in the past 3 years. So you ask, what plans do we have?
Imagine going 7 weeks and not having to drive anyone anywhere at anytime. Imagine not having to deal with what plans they have or what food they want to eat. We can do whatever we want. Maybe we’ll sit at the pool every night and just do nothing.
I get how that might sound, particularly if you don’t understand camp. I’m psyched that we get that time but only because I KNOW that the time Chloe and Julianna are getting is even better. There’s no way I would look forward to, or enjoy, the time we get if I thought the girls weren’t having a transformative experience. It’s a symbiotic situation. Everyone wins.
So I’m writing this last night and thinking about how I’m going to feel tomorrow and how they are going to feel tomorrow as we’re all driving up to camp.
We all have the nerves and excitement building. If I zoom way out, like in the movies, I imagine there are cars all over New England, all driving to their respective camps, all filled with kids anxious and excited and crying a little and laughing a little and then ultimately getting the goosebumps when you see that blinking yellow light.
That blinking yellow light, right outside of camp that literally signals that you have arrived at camp; that it’s go time.
That blinking yellow light: use caution but keep going; don’t stop.
For over 30 years, over countless visits, I have the same physical reaction each time I see that light. My kids have the same reaction. I keep mine to myself but they can’t contain it and that’s the best part and maybe the best life lesson for all of us: yes, there are nerves and things to be anxious about and loved ones to miss BUT…there’s also the greatest friends and life skills and independence and laughing so hard you probably peed in your shorts a bit. There’s crying because you’re sad to leave camp and because you’re happy to be with these people and at this place.
You get all the emotions you can handle and all the grilled cheese you can eat.
I’m jealous my kids get to experience camp again because I know that this summer, like every previous summer, will be the best one yet.