Searching for the Perfect Summer
Sleep-away camp has become a summer tradition in our household.
I never went to sleep-away camp. No way, no how.
Summers for me were spent running from backyard to backyard in my suburban Midwest neighborhood. We’d make up games, swim in Stacey’s pool, eat lunch on the patio. We’d lay out towels in the grass, search for shapes in the clouds, have red Kool-Aid and Nacho Cheese Doritos for a snack. After dinner, we’d play kick-the-can in the street, hunt for lightening bugs, and plan to meet again the next day to do it all over again. Perfect.
When I was first dating my husband and found out that his perfect summer meant leaving his family and neighborhood friends to go to sleep-away camp, I thought we might have reached a premature irreconcilable difference. He’d been going to Camp Tohkomeupog in New Hampshire since he was eight years old. He stayed on as a counselor through college, even returning for a few summers while in grad school. What? I feared this skewed view of summertime bliss would surely mean trouble ahead.
But then he took me up to camp. He took me on a hike. He talked about trees and campfires, totem poles and mountain trails. He took me swimming in the lake. He introduced me to his camp friends. And then – damn it – he proposed to me at the camp waterfront. It was all so unfair; this slow, steady plan to make me a believer long before we had kids.
Tohko is an all-boys’ camp, so by the time our son reached Bear Clan age, I knew he would go for two weeks. I was less sure about his older sister; food allergies and a lack of allegiance to a girls’ camp made me less inclined to send her off. But then, Devin’s brother –another Tohko Camp fanatic – decides to buy a camp with another close friend. Suddenly, Madison is begging to head away to Forest Lake Camp in New York. Off she went. And as she left this summer, our youngest is already making plans to join her next year. It is a battle I have lost, though truth be told, it was never one I fought.
My kids’ perfect summer is now a combination of time spent at home in Barrington and their time away at camp. We have created great traditions around their leaving: Connor and Dad get their summer buzz cuts together; Madison and I make fun playlists on her Ipod. We get (rare and precious) letters home from them; we ship off care packages stuffed with junk they’re thrilled to get. They come home with new friends, great stories of new things they’ve tried, and small tokens of their successes. I still struggle at the goodbyes: driving back home with an empty backseat is painful. But camp has become – for all of us – a part of growing up.
As I await their return this summer, I think back to last year: I wrote this short poem the day after Connor came home. I’m sure other moms and dads with kids away at camp can relate. Happy summer, everyone!
The camp trunk
I am unpacking the Pokemón cards, the sleeping bag, the pocket knife,
and a new red feather from Counsel Fire.
I am unpacking six crumpled T-shirts, five filthy shorts, one Tohko sweatshirt,
and thirteen socks that once were white.
I am unpacking twelve Hanes briefs labeled KELLY, one pair labeled INGERS,
and the shoes that swallowed up the lake.
I am unpacking the letters sent from home, the toothbrush, the pillow,
and a faded Purple Bear.
I am unpacking one beautiful boy
two weeks taller,
with hair a little longer,
and one more front tooth missing.
This one beautiful boy
comes bounding back to me,
for a little while longer.
Lucky, lucky me.