The bags are packed. The duffels have shipped. The stationary and envelopes have been carefully organized and pre-stamped.
My daughter is leaving to sleep-away camp.
It’s her first time going, but not my first time sending a kid away for a summer. I know what to do. I’ve marked her clothing using both iron-on labels and indelible ink in hopes that the clothing will actually return in her bags at the end of the month. I’ve taught her the nuances of the “laundry bag” – pin your socks, don’t throw in anything wet – even though I know she will still return with moldy clothes and virtually no matching pairs of socks. She has shampoo and soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes. (“Take an extra, just in case!”) I label a handy-dandy shower caddy for her to keep her things in. She has her summer reading books for school. Her duffel bag is organized and compartmentalized to help her unpack when she gets to her bunk.
Didn’t kids once go off with a bundle tied to a stick?
It’s kind of a game. Having done this before I know what is going to happen when she gets to her bunk. I know how my carefully planned and executed packing and preparing for camp will be for naught. I’ll see her in pictures posted on the camp website wearing clothes I don’t recognize and find that jacket that she begged me to send to camp on the back of a bunkmate. I’ll pour over the pictures and enlarge her teeth to make sure that yes, they have been brushed. At least once. I’ll wonder if that spot on her neck is dirt or just the camera lens. And why is her face so red? Didn’t she remember the sunscreen?
No matter how much I prepare and send with her, the bottom line is, she is off on her own. I know she won’t shower as much as she should. I know the counselors will probably empty half her toothpaste in the sink the night before visiting day so that I will believe she brushed often and effectively. I know she won’t break the binding on her book and that summer reading will be crammed in the week before school starts. And I know that half her clothes will be lost, destroyed, or moldy.
Even though I try and pack every comfort of home, summer camp is more than just relocating. I can prepare her all I want, but once she’s out there, well, there’s no telling what she’ll do. And that’s okay. Because even though I’m creating this guise of concern for her hygiene and education, I’m actually much more interested in seeing a smile on her face.
Summer camp is time away. It’s time away from technology and TV, cell phones and iPads. It’s time away from the nagging of mom and dad and the fights with siblings. And for some, it’s time away from showers and teeth brushing and clean clothes. I’ve made peace with that. Because camp is really about listening to ghost stories and turning on flashlights with your bunkmates. It’s screaming at the bugs and the heat and creating memories. It is so much more than the organized camp list and duffel.
My kids take turns going to camp. With five kids, sending all of them at once would require a second mortgage and we decided a long time ago that having a house was more important than the few weeks in a bunk. Their experiences have been mixed. My son loved it. One of my daughters, not so much. Though, granted, that was the summer of Swine Flu and she spent most of her time in the infirmary or home. This summer, it is my youngest daughter’s turn.
I hope she has a great time this summer. I hope she writes letters and wishes it will last longer. And I hope she appreciates the efforts I took to send her away prepared to survive the wilds without me there to help her.
But that last bit is a fantasy. Maybe even the letters part. Years of sending kids off for the summer has taught me to not to expect much in the way of appreciation for my painstakingly neurotic packing and preparing. In fact, they probably would’ve been happier with less.
But at least I know that she has what she needs. That I have done my job. That she is armed with toothpaste, and sunscreen, and bug spray as she goes to live in the wilds of her newly renovated bunk.
Even though in reality, what she will actually use in camp could probably fit in a bundle tied to a stick.
And that’s all good.