Tag Archives: camp

Ending The Week On An Up Note

On Friday mornings, ESP camp holds “Fair and Flag.” For the fair, each unit sets up a table filled with the crafts they made that week. The vocational class sold granola, muffins, and bread they had cooked (I can testify that all three are delicious). The older teens sold door mats that had been painted with different designs. I got one that has stripes like Charlie Brown’s shirt. The younger teens sold watercolors and Christmas ornaments. I bought the interlocking hearts.

Carlos’ class sold painted canvases–with one decorated balloon cookie thrown in with the purchase. I paid $5 for the one that said C-A-R-L-O-S in the corner:

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Recognize it? That’s Carl and Ellie’s house from the movie “Up.” I would have paid $500 for this remembrance of a fantastic week.

The “flag” part of Fair and Flag is a crazy cheering circle that celebrates the kids and the sponsors and the parents who all pitched in to make the magic. Carlos didn’t like the noise, so we sat off to the side with his counselor, Miss Abbie.

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She was dressed like a member of Troop 54 just like Russell in the movie. Carlos counted the twelve yellow dots painted on her face with the tip of his finger. She giggled. He counted all the blue things in her costume. He was so perfectly himself. I finally walked over to join the cheering circle and in a minute, he came and stood in front of me so I could cover his ears with my hands. Abbie told me all the things he’s done this week, like making a Cheerios catapult, singing “Green Machine,” playing in a tent with JoJo (from his preK class!), and telling her all about his kitties, Jinxie and Rufus. He got a shout-out yesterday at Flag for being a great song singer.

Y’all.

He has NEVER talked this much. I don’t know if it’s ESP camp magic or if it’s Vivi being out of the house this week, but his speech has exploded.

(I just had to take a break from typing this so we could have a sing-a-long at bedtime and teach Daddy the “colors song” and pretend to play “kitar.”)

He’s using expressive language, like “I love it there” and “Want to go back to camp.” He’s NEVER reported to me at the end of the school day about what he had done. Now, he talks about the Amanda Show and how she does tricks with rubber bands and he can name five of the kids in his unit.

He’s soaring.

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A Letter Home

Oh, Happy Day!

I opened up the mailbox to find a real envelope with a real stamp…a letter from Vivi at camp!

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Before I even took it out of the mailbox, I was asking myself if I should open it right away or wait until G gets home. In less than a second, I decided he would be OK with me opening it right away. So I flipped it over…

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And I began to get a little worried that I…

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NEVER TAUGHT MY DAUGHTER HOW TO SEAL AN ENVELOPE SO THE LETTER DOESN’T FALL OUT SOMEWHERE.

This kid knows how to sign in to her Google account, create docs, save and email them. She does not, however, know that you have to pull the little white strip thingy off the sticky part and smoosh it together.

Or maybe she’s pulling my chain?

Somebody Loves You That Much

I had been OK with Vivi being away at camp…until about 11 p.m. on her birthday. All afternoon, I had been hitting Refresh on the camp photo page. I know they celebrated her day by singing at meals, and her unit had cake, and she got that big pink care package that G and I left for her at the trading post, but I needed to SEE some of it.

The photos went up and within minutes I started crying. Out of 225 pictures, I only found four with her visible. In two, she was daydreaming in the back of a canoe, her paddle vertical in the water. In one, she was walking with her unit but she seemed alone, sucking on her finger. In the best photo, she stood with her counselor:

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Simply seeing her face wasn’t enough for me. Is she happy enough? Does she look like a girl on her birthday? Is she OK? My mind whirled down the path of worry but there was just no knowing.

I hadn’t realized how much I was hoping to see a photo of her giggling with her tentmates or at the center of some shenanigans. I couldn’t stop the tears that sprang from my eyes. G gave me hug and reminded me that she is probably having a blast.

Still, my mom heart kept asking, “Is she happy enough?”

As I went to bed, I could hear anxiety and insomnia creeping up behind me on shuffling feet. It was 11:49 p.m. so I told myself that once the clock turned to 12:00 a.m., it wouldn’t be her birthday anymore and I could put down the whip. While I waited for the minutes to tick by, I remembered a conversation that Daddy and I had about birthdays and birthday cake.

It was sometime last year, probably at Cowtail because my Aunt Dixie was there. We started talking about birthday cake and I told Aunt Dixie, “I still remember the cake you made for Shannon for her second or third birthday–it had pink frosting and daisies with petals made from marshmallows and you had dyed the center of each petal with pink sugar.”

pink flowers

Aunt Dixie laughed and said, “Gosh, I remember that cake! It was a recipe from Good Housekeeping and those durn flowers took me forever.”

“Well, it was worth it because I still think of that cake and how pretty it was. Now that I’ve got kids I understand how much effort it takes….”

And Daddy finished my sentence–“when somebody loves you that much.”

Exactly. That’s what that pink cake covered in sugar sparkling flowers was–a visible way of seeing how much Aunt Dixie loved her daughter. Somebody loves you that much, enough to stay up all night snipping sticky marshmallows and dipping them in pink sugar just to see the delight in your eyes on your birthday.

Daddy used to make me cakes for my birthday. Coconut cakes because they were our favorite. He went to the trouble because he loved me that much.

That memory helped me understand why I was struggling with being apart from Vivi on her birthday–making a fuss over her has always been my way of showing her “somebody loves you that much.”

I looked at the photo of Vivi and her counselor again and my heart was soothed. See that book in her hand? That’s the sixth book in a series that she’s been reading. It was in her birthday care package that was delivered at camp. Look how much she’s read in one afternoon! I couldn’t make her a cake that day, but I gave her something she finds just as sweet.

She’s been gobbling up a story. A book that was ordered for her, kept a surprise, packed in a special pink box with glow bracelets and puppy stickers and a disposable camera and gel pens and a camp bandana…all because somebody loves her that much.

I hope she stayed up until she was finished with the book. She has her green camp lantern, and she has extra batteries. She even has books seven and eight waiting for her at home. All because somebody loves her that much.

Wobbly

When we were on the spring break cruise, Carlos felt the roll of the ship under his feet and got the funniest confused expression on his face. He shouted, “WOBBBBBBBBBBBBLLLLLY!” every time we swayed from wall to wall walking down the passageway. He still says it when he slips and falls or stumbles. Well, his summer has gotten off to a wobbly start.

The camp we were counting on for the first week of the summer was full. Oops. There just aren’t that many options for a five year old who melts down at noise and crowds, so he spent days bouncing back and forth between G’s office and my office. He carried his little Spiderman backpack filled with Matchbox cars, Paw Patrol stickers, and tablet like he was getting paid to do it. I let him push all the elevator buttons and we played I Spy from the glass bridge between buildings at least once a day.

For the second week, we had both Carlos and Vivi signed up for the children’s theater camp that she loves. After the first day, the director reported that he wasn’t interested in doing any of the camp activities. She asked if we could send something to entertain him until he warmed up. The second day he spent face down in his Kindle Fire. By the third day, they emailed to say that he wasn’t ready for that camp and they would be glad to give us a refund when we picked him up. Before lunchtime, please and thank you.

Sigh. I flashed right back to last summer when he was getting sent home from daycare for tantrums. I felt those old fears of “life for him is always going to be difficult because he doesn’t know how to fit in.” He spent the rest of that week at his internship with me.

Seriously…my kid gets drummed out of THEATER camp? Can’t he just be a tree in the big finale?

We were counting on two more weeks of that camp and now the summer plan was crumbling before my eyes. G hustled around and found a spot for Carlos in a Montessori camp for the weeks that we needed. Excellent–the summer was saved!

I mean, how’s he gonna get kicked out of Montessori camp…not composting?

Just in case, we went out and bought this composting bin and it’s Carlos’ new favorite thing. He spins it like he’s calling Bingo at the VFW.

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Dang, that kid is cute, even with his do-it-yourself bangs and that crazy-eye face he makes when he says “CHEEEEEEEEESE!”

Today he went to yet ANOTHER camp. He’s signed up for four weeks of day camp at Extra Special People. His pre-K teacher suggested it and I’m so glad she did. It’s a program “where individuals with developmental disabilities don’t just survive… they thrive!” At first, I thought he wouldn’t qualify–his challenges aren’t really that tough. We’ve ruled out autism and developmental delay. The stuff on his IEP is social interaction. He takes his shoes off when he’s not supposed to. He tunes out talking if it’s not interesting. He hollers if he doesn’t want to go along.

I felt guilty sending my kid to “special” camp when he’s pretty ordinary. Except when he isn’t. I even checked with the camp director to make sure that we didn’t take a spot from someone else. I actually said, “he could survive the Y camp, but he might spend part of the day curled up in a ball.” They assured me that there was a place for Carlos at ESP.

He seems to agree.

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When I picked him up, he was downright chatty! He told me about saying the pledgeallegent, singing Rainbow Submarine, eating lunch, and going bowling! There was a scavenger hunt and circle time and apple slices with peanut butter.

I hope I will always remember how he starts every sentence with “Mommy?” I do think I will always remember something he said tonight. We were talking about tomorrow being tie-dyed shirt day and he said, “Mommy? Today? I love it there.”

Not so wobbly any more.

carlos camp

This Isn’t About Me. It’s the Penguin.

Sooooo…Vivi is at sleep-away camp for the first time ever in her whole entire almost nine year life. Yep.

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I’m fine.

Seriously. Totally OK.

But I’m concerned about Pengy.

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He stayed like this the whole ride home.

He doesn’t look like he’s OK with this AT ALL. I think he thinks that she’s growing up so quickly. I bet he thinks that he’s not quite sure what to do with himself without her. I can just look at him and tell that he’s wondering if she’ll ever come back and if she’ll still need him then.

I’m fine, but the penguin is struggling.

Pengy and Vivi have been inseperable since she was about 18 months old. We met Pengy on a trip to the Georgia Aquarium. Since that day, there’s been no other friend for Vivi. He sleeps under her chin every night. He snuggles under her elbow while she’s reading a book. He even sits beside her at the dinner table some nights.

Pengy has been to many cities and a couple of countries. The rule is, Mommy carries Pengy while we travel. We have lots of rules about Pengy–Pengy stays in the car if we go out running errands. Pengy stays home instead of riding to school in a backpack. Carlos is not allowed to touch Pengy.

And she’s gone for a week. Who is Pengy without his Vivi?

When she first started talking about sleep-away camp, the question of Pengy came up–would he be safe in the woods? Was he too old to sleep in a tent every night? Santa brought Vivi a Siamese kitty, which she named Artemis and declared to be her second favorite friend. Artemis went to camp. She’s young and strong and not afraid to sleep in the woods at night.

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Things change, right? Kids are supposed to grow and move on to other stages in life and sometimes we put away childish things. Pengy will always be #1, the original beloved. Nothing can take the place of Pengy. Still. It’s hard.

So yeah. I’m fine. But the penguin is lonely for his girl.

So She Can Live Without Me

On the day my daughter was born, she started living without me. I mean “without” in the sense of “outside of.” Her body began to live without my body.

That day, her birthday, has meant something special to me for eight, almost nine years. It’s the day I became a mother. I’ve marked each year of her life with big parties (there have been ponies involved more than once), but this year is going to be different. It’s got me a little choked up.

Vivi has been wanting to go to sleep away camp so we’ve decided that this summer is her time to try it. I never went to camp, so there’s no legacy here. With the rampant enthusiasm of my friend, Bryn, I found a camp that looks like a perfect fit for Vivi. It’s a camp about leadership for girls. Teaching girls independence and competence. Cooking over a fire, playing in a swimming hole, singing songs together, paddling a canoe, sleeping in tents.

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All great, all great. But after I clicked the Register button, I realized that Vivi will be at camp on her ninth birthday. I broke the news to her and her reaction was, “COOL!!!!” OK. Maybe it’s just me having a hard time with this.

Planning her birthday party has always been my special gift to her–a way of showing her how extravagantly she is loved. This year, my gift to her will be letting her go. Pushing her in the direction of living without me.

Since my dad’s death, I see the importance of making sure my children can live without me. I felt something similar after Richard died–I only had grief, not struggle on top of the grief. My husband was dead, but I knew how to do the taxes and change the outside flood lights and check the air pressure in my tires. I only had to learn how to live with missing him, because I already knew how to live without him. Same with Daddy–I miss him, but I still know everything he managed to teach me about living. He didn’t do things for me. He taught me how to do them myself.

Last night, I asked Vivi, “Is there anything about camp that worries you?”

“Not making friends.”

My heart seized up. What if that happens? What if, even though I know the counselors know how to make sure everyone has a good time, what if my little girl spends a few moments sitting on the edge of her bunk feeling alone in the world? GULP.

“Well, I don’t think that will happen, sweetie. You make friends everywhere you go. If you do find yourself feeling apart, be kind to someone else who might be having a tough time. The best way to have a friend is to be a friend.”

“Or what if I make friends then I have to leave them when camp is over?”

There’s that too, baby. There’s that too. “You’ll be able to see each other at camp next year!”And then I went to my room and cried a little bit with fear for her. But she’ll learn. She’ll learn to tell herself these things when I’m not there beside her. The only way for her to learn that she can navigate the world on her own is to let her live without me.

We spent Easter Sunday in the woods at Cowtail, riding ATVs and slinging mud around. I’ve never been comfortable driving the ones you steer with handlebars–I like driving the Mule because it has a steering wheel, a brake, and a gas pedal. The kids love the Mule because we can pile all of them in the back and go caroming over stumps and rocks, weaving through trees and plowing through mud holes. The kids have to wait until one of the adults will drive them.

carlos mule

Victoria rode shotgun with me for a couple of trail rides. It was tough driving in the rain. We had to remember to keep our mouths shut while hitting the mudholes at full speed–mud gets EVERYWHERE when you’re hooting and hollering. She’s never driven the Mule but she’s sixteen now and knows how to manage a steering wheel, a brake, and a gas pedal.

I gave her a little push and she tried driving it. She wouldn’t let the Littles ride in the back–it had to be just the two of us. And she may have pruned a sapling or two on the tight corners. But she did it.

After a while, I relaxed enough to look out at the scenery, which I never get to do when I’m driving. I saw dogwood trees that nobody planted, just blooming in the woods in the rain. I saw chunks of pink quartz peeking up from the earth. I saw 20 colors of green.

Victoria learned how to enjoy the Mule without me and that gave me the opportunity to sit there beside her, fully present.

As we ground our way up Rock Hill, she said, “I can’t wait to bring my kids to Cowtail. It’s cool to think that they’ll be playing with Grant’s kids and Jake’s kids and all the cousins.”

That’s family. Growing into that fine balance where you know you can stand on your own but you never have to be alone. With and without.

victoria mule

Let Her Go

Let Her Go.

Let Her Go.

I went into Vivi’s room after she was asleep to pull the covers up on her shoulder and tuck Pengy under her chin.  I pushed a curl behind her ear.  So tiny, this girl.  The girl who is already asking me how old she needs to be before she can go to camp.  It’s becoming real to me, after all these years of watching her grow in baby steps–there will come a day when she goes off on an adventure without me.  There will come a night when she falls asleep, with Pengy tucked under her chin, and I will be somewhere far away.  She already wants to go.  And I will let her go.

All this camp talk got stirred up because Vivi and I took a little road trip this weekend to deliver our friend Abigail to three weeks of camp at the Duke TIP program.  Duke’s Talent Identification Program is a place for gifted teens to find their tribe.  Abigail’s mother Rachel and I met at a similar program–Governor’s Honors–back in the summer of 1985.  Rachel is one of the Elephant Painters.  When she found herself trapped by an impossible scheduling conflict, I jumped at the chance to take Abigail on this adventure.

I adore Abigail because she’s funny.  When I asked her if the students were allowed to leave campus, she said, “Oh, no.  They freak out if we even talk to a stranger walking by on the sidewalk.  They’re real worried about…wandering prodigies, I guess.”  Within 30 seconds, she and I had turned this into an improvisation skit.  I growled in my best police radio static voice “BOLO, we got a 1600 SAT on the loose.  Subject was last seen wearing a Doctor Who shirt and skinny jeans.”

That’s the kind of kid Abigail is.  Love.  Her.

But four hours in the car with a wandering prodigy and a seven year old tornado required some compromise, especially since some dumbass (ahem…me) has recently given Vivi the “Frozen” soundtrack.  So we came to an agreement–Abigail and I got to talk about books and music and angst and TV and movies and poems and nerves and books again for 15 minutes.  After our time was up, we listened to Vivi belt out “For the First Time in Forever.”  Then Vivi went back to reading her book for another 15 minutes while Abigail tried to convince me that Benedict Cumberbatch really is the most beautiful creature in the world and I tried to get her to admit that he looks like his parents were first cousins.  Then Vivi sang “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”  We talked about life in the small town and life in the big city.  Abigail told me that she was nervous about her time at camp.  I told her that I had felt the same way before GHP.  We talked about anxiety and coping and remembering that EVERYONE feels that way in a new situation.  Then we hit the Play button and Vivi sang “Let It Go,” complete with dramatic flourishes and hand gestures.

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!

Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You’ll never see me cry!

We stopped at a roadside peach stand in North Carolina so I could introduce Abigail to the wonders of Blenheim ginger ale. As we stretched our legs with a browse around the peanut brittle, peach cider, and fireworks, all three of us were humming “Let It Go.”  Abigail bemoaned, “I can’t show up to a COLLEGE singing THAT SONG.”  She feared that humming a Disney song might give her roommate the wrong impression, a faux pas that no number of Marvel Comics references could erase.  Lose all her cool points.

Remember that feeling?  That overwhelming excitement about joining a totally new group of people to do a totally new thing?  The chance to redefine, putting forth a curated version of your best self?  I do.  But the curated version of myself that I present to others and my authentic self have gotten a lot closer together over the years.

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all!

The bottle opener for the ginger ales was mounted by the exit door.  I popped mine in the curve and with a twist of the wrist, the cap fell down into the receptacle.  I stepped aside so Abigail could open hers.

She froze. “I…don’t…know…how that thing works!”  She was truly flummoxed.

I said, “And they let you into GIFTED CAMP?  Girl, please.”  I talked her through it and she got the top off her Blenheim.  We stood there in the hot parking lot and each took a long slug of spicy ginger ale.  And winced.  Blenheim is HOT.  She loved it.  It made me so happy to introduce her to something new, to be part of her world getting a little larger.  To show her that it’s not the end of the world when you have to admit you don’t know something.

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone!

After Abigail got settled in her dorm room with her new roommate, Vivi and I said our goodbyes and headed back to the car.  I took Vivi’s hand and said, “I’m a little sad that we have to leave.”  Vivi, in her second grade (almost) wisdom, said, “Well, we got her to the right place, got her the right kinds of snacks, put all her clothes on hangers, met her roommate, got them a trash can…now we have to leave so she can do the rest herself.”

“You’re exactly right, Viv.  I guess I’m partly sad because it makes me think about the day when you’ll go off to camp and I’ll have to leave you to have your own adventures.”

She squeezed my hand.  And started asking how many more years until she can go to camp just like Abigail.

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