Tears, Fears and Sleepaway Camp

My baby left for camp!

Photograph by Getty Images

It’s 10 a.m., and the bus for sleepaway camp leaves in 90 minutes. I grab my keys and my phone and my purse. There is a lump in my throat. I swallow it, hard, and it goes down bumpy.

Where is the camper? I dart over to her room, and there is my 9-year-old, standing by her pink and green bed, righting the bolster pillows, straightening the chenille duvet cover. This is how it will look for the next 12 days, I think. Then I think, don’t think that.

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“Do you have everything?” I’m surprised to find myself a little out of breath. “Is there anything else you need?”

She looks up at me—my baby girl whose round face is narrowing, whose forehead now bumps my chin. “The only thing I still need I can’t bring,” she says, “and that’s you.”

Oh my goodness. I grab her and kiss her but I don’t let my face go all soft and sentimental, oh no, because that will not make this morning go well and it needs to go perfectly. These last 72 hours, the burden of expectation has become acute. She couldn’t fall asleep. She couldn’t stay asleep. She itched. She got nauseous. She felt dizzy. She developed a rash on her chest.

“You don’t have to do this,” I said yesterday. No, she shook her head. She might not make any friends this year. She might be up all night in her cabin, missing us. But she was going.

My job, I can see, is not to make this any harder. I pull my mouth into a smile, bright and perky. “C’mon baby, let’s get going,” I say. And then we hop into the minivan and drive across town to the bus.

Everyone’s come with a buddy—everyone but my daughter.

At the appointed parking lot, they take her bags out of the back of the van and toss them into a truck. We drive off and find street parking and walk inside the building. She checks in and they slap a tag on her chest, with her name and her cabin name. Moriah. She is in a cabin named Moriah.

We go upstairs as directed, to the waiting area, and run smack into a gaggle of girls her height. Moriah, Moriah ... there are Moriah girls everywhere. Two of them know her from last year. I see her shoulders drop an inch, her jaw loosen. She smiles slightly and they grin back.

The Moriah girls are friendly, but they are also paired up. Everyone’s come with a buddy—everyone but my daughter. “Oh look, here’s your group,” I hear a mom say, and I turn around to see a 9-year-old who looks more likely to cry than giggle. She’s in Moriah, too. She’s come by herself, too. From the look of her, she’d rather be anywhere but here.

I introduce myself to the mom. They live five minutes from our house. “Did you hear that, honey?” I say to my daughter. But she is already chatting with the other girl.

“BUS SIX!” a counselor yells over a megaphone. “It’s time for CAMP!”

The Moriah counselor springs into action—Moriah girls, apparently, are on Bus Six—and tears spring to my eyes before I can force them away. It’s OK, though; my daughter doesn’t see. She's already at the staircase, with the counselor and her new buddy, headed for the street.

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I get down there in time and pepper her with kisses until she laughs and pushes me away. My baby gets on the bus, sits down with her new best friend, and offers her a piece of gum for the ride. I wave through the window. She waves back. The bus starts to pull away. I wave. She waves back. The bus drives off. I wave.

I can cry, I think, as I head back to the minivan. She won’t see those tears now.

But I know she’s already having a great time. I find I don’t need to weep, after all.

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