postcard from daycamp

by bam

dear anybody out there,

it’s me. at camp. oh, i know. i’m not supposed to be here. back in january, when winds were howling and snows blew in through the cracks, when the farthest thing from any right-thinking mind should have been what to do with the long hot summer, back then, when i signed up for this little adventure, i did not check some wee little box, saying i too wanted to come.

nope, this was supposed to be daycamp for l’il campers. not daycamp for mamas. but, in the world that i live in, things don’t always unfold quite like they’re ‘sposed to.


despite the fact that right up till bedtime the night before the first day of camp, all was swell in the i’m-going-to-camp dept., somehow, when curls hit the pillow, something had changed.

suddenly, there was much tossing and turning and calling down stairs. “i feel nervous,” was one of the hollers. “can you come here?” was another. followed by a solemn request to climb out of bed and reach for the box with the little glass hearts, the ones employed back on the night right before the first full day of school. the ones we squeezed back and forth, our own morse sort of code, to make like an invisible wire kept us tied through the long lonely hours of a first day apart.

and so, duly equipped, on day no. 1, my little camper set out with sunscreen and towel, pb & little glass heart.

apparently, the ol’ heart is due for a tune-up. a sad fact that became abundantly clear faster than i could spit out, “sweetheart, how was it?”as he slumped off the bus at the end of the very first day.

the big yellow camp bus had not even coughed up its exiting fumes, nor started to roll out of sight after unloading my little one, when his face, red and splotchy for starters, turned into a miserable mess of sweat, sobs and tears.

“i was homesick all day,” he told me, clutching my hand, nearly collapsing into my side, crying so hard we plopped right down on the sidewalk.

the rest of the night was one long, sniffly attempt to try to decipher the root of the very bad case of mal de chateau, to put a french spin on the global affliction.

if the word p-o-o-l was so much as whispered, the sniffles turned back to the sobs.

seems the pool, according to said camper, was seven feet deep at the shallowest end, and you could and you would sink to the bottom. seems, too, the campers were warned, and spared no gory details, of the imminent dangers of cracked heads and corners of pool.

besides all that drowning and bleeding to death, it was just plain nagging homesickness that ruined the day.

there was no going back for much of the evening. he was, it seemed, on strike for the summer. would rather wither up in his room than have to board that darn yellow bus, romp in the sun, slip on the edge of the pool and succumb to the deathly deep waters.

scrounging for some sort of out here, some sort of way to turn this around–save calling and begging for refund–i asked, squeakily, would it help if i came for the swimming? to which he shook his head yes, in between inhales in between sobs.

and, so, that is how i came to be the only fully-dressed soul on the side of the pool at the next day of camp, which happened to be only just yesterday.

which brings me directly to my reason for writing: life ain’t how you script it, now is it?

so much for breezy, easy summer. so much for scootching the boy onto the bus and spending my worry-free days here at the keyboard.

nope, not once in my wee little memory can i recall something around here unfolding the easy way.

all over america, i assume, there are campers whistling their way onto lumbering buses, signing up gleefully for rope climbing and watersliding. not minding the sun, not even mosquitoes. heck, someone somewhere might even take plain old grape jelly with the ubiquitous smear of peanutty butter.

but not at my house. and maybe not at yours either.

here, i am holding my breath. waiting for the camp nurse to call. wondering and wondering if maybe there’s someone who’s taken a shine to my homesick sweet camper.

i did all i could: stood there and cheered at the side of the pool, come yesterday morn. eyeballed the depth, informed him quite clearly it’s 3 and a half, not seven and change. told him, nope, i could not come every day.

but i could and i did tuck a love note back in his lunch bag this morning. slathered him up, with plenty of sunscreen. promised i’d wait right at the curb for the bus at the end of the very long day. then i waved adios, and started my prayers.

i find myself wondering why it is that for some of us the equation is never so simple, never straight forward. camp + camper does not equal instant attraction.

these things are labored for around here. we soothe and we coax. we dial up camp. we explain, and we ask if maybe we might be an exception, and sort of just lurk by the pool in the midst of our workday. just this once. please.

so much for carefree summer. heck, if this keeps up, i’ll be longing for school days.

and i know i’m not alone. i know a mama who had to walk a sixth grader into the school social worker each day, just to get the child out of the minivan. i know kids who won’t get near a bike. kids who refuse to go on a sleepover.

all i’m saying is there’s so much of growing up that everyone pretends is so easy. only it’s not. not at all for the kids whose hearts ache, and the ones whose tummies are tied up in knots.

i’m just saying summer’s not always a breeze. and some lemonade just can’t be made sweet enough. i’m saying for every 10 kids who take to the ballfield, there’s one–at least–left on the sidelines, shaking in fear.

i’m saying, God bless those children who find it so hard. and God bless the mamas and papas and all of the grownups who pay close attention, who don’t just slap the kid on the back, tell ‘em to buck up or else. turn out the light, let ‘em cry in the dark.

Lord have mercy, is all i ask. and try not to forget, a pool, even a mere three feet of water, can look to very small eyes like enough of a sea to swallow ’em whole.

and for just such a child, there’s no harm, i’d wager, in a grownup stopping the workday, and heading to daycamp. streetclothes and all.

don’t worry ’bout sunscreen. the sun doesn’t shine where a child is homesick.

did you find it harder to grow up than you thought it should be? than it seemed to be for everyone else? do you know little ones–or now big ones–who found every climb up the mountain to be steeper than anyone warned you? who lightened your climb? how have you lightened some homesick daycamper?