(This is part of a series of posts comparing my childhood experiences with those of my children. Of course, their experiences are being interpreted by me, so there’s bias. Also, the series could end at any time so enjoy it while it’s hot. 92 degrees and humid in Ann Arbor.)
Because my summer camp experience was a lonely one (but only in retrospect; at the time there was something wrong with me so I didn’t notice, which is good when you think about it) I went to a great deal of effort to make sure my children had POSITIVE camp experiences. I arranged for them to go to camp with friends and I coordinated my efforts with other moms so that our children could sleep even in the same bunks, piled one on top of the other. I packed them off with great love and care: new jammies that wouldn’t embarrass them, little love notes tucked in to be discovered among their clothes and contraband snacks. I drove them to camp myself and hung around until the last possible moment when they would say, "Mom, please leave."
Ms. Turtle Dream had her first camp experience early. That’s because all children in a university town start going to camp at the crack of their dawn and keep going until they are shipped off to college. But still, I waited until she begged to go and that was when she was seven. ALL her friends were going to one week overnight camp; "please,please, please."
Three days after she left I received the above (absolutely frameable) letter. As you can see, she tells me she is "week" and fading from lack of "protine." And in case I’m following in my mother’s footsteps, would I be sure and pass this on to her father? Surely, he will save her.
The postman had no sooner put this letter in my hand than I peeled out of the driveway and sped down the highway for two hours to rescue my wasting daughter. When I arrived I tore into her cabin ready to scoop her up and drive her away- to hell with the new camp trunk and jammies! No T.D. I raced to the food hall. No T.D. I ran to the first aid station thinking she must already be in a coma. The nurse said she had seen her earlier in the week when she came in and announced that she thought the s’mores were giving her "an ulcer" but when she checked her the next day she was fine. As a last resort I went down to the waterfront and sure enough, there on the sand was T.D’s counselor yelling, "T.D.! Bring that boat back RIGHT NOW!" She was out on the lake working on boating safety skills, emulating her mother to a T: learn by doing. And she had 4 friends aboard, minus life vests. I feebly called out to her, "T.D.! Mommy is here!" She waved and kept going for the opposite shore.
The next number of years T.D. went to Michigan’s well known music camp. There she played first chair trumpet in the premier concert band and when we drove all the way across the state to visit her on parent’s weekend she stone cold ignored us, leaving her father and I to shuffle around uncomfortably with each other, in her cabin and at the band shell. She had her first boyfriend at this camp. He was the kid, Ian Michael Smith, who starred in Simon Birch, the blockbuster movie based on A Prayer for Owen Meaney. He played trumpet, too. I saw potential there. Although she was only 11 and he was in a wheelchair, I thought they should take a shot at life together.
At 12, T.D. decided she had had enough of summer camp and since I wasn’t ever going to let her go "hang at the mall" we might as well go kayak the Inside Passage of Alaska together. So we did.