“Well,” I said to my husband as we lugged my daughter’s camp trunk in from the car, “I guess we’re officially a ‘camp family’ now. I guess camp is now a thing we’re going to do every summer.”
“Uh, yeah,” he said. “You’re just now realizing that?”
But … yeah, I was just now realizing that.
I thought the first summer of sleepaway camp would be the hardest for me – and in many ways, it was. But I did not anticipate that the second summer would be perhaps even harder in its own way, too.
Ever since I picked Ruby up from camp last summer, she’s been talking about going back. She would tell me that when she got stressed about something, she would take a deep breath and imagine the lake at camp, that it was her “happy place.” Every month on the 4th, she would tell me, “X more months to camp.” And when we pulled off the highway and started getting closer to camp this year, she rolled down the windows and just shrieked with joy and excitement.
But I know I can’t be the only one who has had a great experience – at a restaurant, at a theatre, at a vacation spot – only to have a lackluster time on a repeat visit. So of course, I worried that, yes, sure, Ruby had a great time at camp last year, but who knows what circumstances might affect her experience this time around? And this time, she would be devastated because it wouldn’t just be a bad few weeks; it would be an actual loss – she would have lost her happy place!
Every night when I saw pictures, I tried to gauge her state of mind. She looked miserable in a picture taken on the challenge ropes course. She was biting her cuticle, something she does when she’s feeling anxious, in a picture from Songfest. And there was a picture of her eating a hamburger alone, with her friends several yards away laughing.
The hamburger picture undid me. I called coworkers into my office to analyze it. They mostly told me I was crazy, although one coworker, a fellow nervous mother, suggested I could email the camp director and ask about it.
I didn’t email the camp director. But I also didn’t stop worrying.
When I picked her up, she’d had the time of her life again. Meanwhile, I was the annoying neurotic mom who peppered her with questions.
“Why did you look so unhappy at the challenge ropes?”
“Uh, I was covered in mosquito bites.”
“What about Songfest? You looked nervous at Songfest. I thought you loved Songfest.”
“I do love Songfest. If I looked nervous, it was because we were waiting to hear who won. My team won. But I would’ve been fine if we didn’t, Mom.”
“OK, but what about the hamburger, Ruby? Why were you eating a hamburger all by yourself?”
“I just wanted a minute to myself. My friends made a spot for me, but I’d just been around people all day and I just wanted some time alone. Haven’t you ever felt that way?”
Oh. Yes. I suddenly remembered that in my former life as an exhibits manager who had to travel to academic conferences around the U.S., I would frequently lie to my coworkers and say I had dinner plans because I just needed a break after talking to people at the conference that day. And then I would order a pizza and eat it alone in my hotel room, savoring every second.
So fine. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a kid eating a hamburger alone is just a kid eating a hamburger alone.
Later, I heard Ruby trying to convince Georgia that she is going to come to camp in two years, when she’s 7.
“You’ll love it, Georgie. You should probably only go for a week because you’ve never been before, but I’ll be there to help you out, so you and Mommy don’t have to worry.”
It’s unthinkable that I won’t have to worry. Of course I will have to worry. But I won’t try to keep Georgia from going if she wants to.
After all, we’re a camp family now.