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Zoe is not in this picture, but apparently she did this exact activity!

Yesterday she slept till 11 o’clock. She had fun at the pool yesterday afternoon but seems a little blue and kind of dazed, with occasional bursts of energy, since she came home from camp. I know it’s a lot to process. I know after experiencing such a major moment in your life–an entire week away from your family–it’s hard to come down. I’m so happy she had fun and I’m trying so hard to be patient as she reacclimates to her regular life. 

I asked her to write about her experience but the prospect was totally overwhelming, so I interviewed her and wrote it all down. 

Q: What was the most surprising thing about camp?

A: The most surprising thing about camp was getting to stay up till 10:00! After we got in bed we had flashlight time and we made shadow animals on the walls.

Q: What were your five favorite things about camp?

A: Kids, counselors, activities, horses, how much social time we got.

Q: What kind of chores did you have to do?

A: In the cabin we had to sweep, line up the shoes on the porch, take out the trash, clear the bathroom of people’s stuff, and make our beds. Another chore was being gopher, which meant we had to leave early to go to the dining hall, we had to set the table with silverware and get two pitchers of ice water. We had to go to the kitchen to get all the food. If anyone wanted seconds we had to get it for them. At the end we had to clear the table, put silverware in different buckets and empty liquids into two liquid buckets and sponge down the table. I volunteered to be the gopher for dinner the first night we were there. I liked being the gopher because it was fun to be in charge of everything.

Q: How was the food?

A: Delicious. One night we had a cookout and at the cookout we had taco skillet and vegetables. There were Fritos to dip in them and water and lemonade.

Q: What were some of your favorite events?

A: One of them was cabin cleanup, which was whoever had the cleanest cabins at the end of the week won, and we won (Blue Jays won). Guess what our prize was? Breakfast in our cabin. We got to sleep in 15 minutes late on Saturday and our counselors brought us breakfast. Another event I liked was color wars. Color Wars is when the whole camp volunteers for a bunch of different activities. There are three teams—red/superheroes, purple/supernatural (my team), and green/super-villains. Some of the activities were dodge ball, four-legged race, a kayaking race, sink the canoe (a game where 12 people from each team go in the water and 6 people on either side of the canoe and a counselor was on each end. One counselor was in the water holding the canoe underneath and another was sitting on it. When they said go all the kids would start splashing as much water as possible into the canoe and whoever sank the canoe first won). There was watermelon relay where several people from each team would go into the water in a line and turn around and one person would start by passing the watermelon over their head, the next person would pass it under their legs. They would do it in a pattern until they go to the last person. The first person to get it back to the crate won. There was tube relay where the first person would lie on their belly on the tube and paddle across the lake. When they got to the other side they would give the tube to the person waiting for them and they would swim to shore. The person who got the tube got on the tube and swam across to the dock where everyone was waiting. The first team to complete that won. There was also smallest splash off the waterslide and biggest splash off the high dive.

Q: Tell me about your cabin.

A: There were seven kids who slept there including me and there was one person who came as a day camper. It was the first year at camp for everyone in my cabin. My closest friends were named Oakley and Ellie. The counselors were named Kate and Maria. Kate is from Russia and Maria is from Spain. At bedtime Kate would sing a Russian lullaby to us to help us fall asleep. Maria woke us up in the morning. When my fan stopped working, Maria came over to my bed at night and blow on me and stroke my hair. Another girl in my cabin, Lauren, was pretty crazy. Every day she did yoga and everyone’s favorite pose to watch her do was the crazy dancer. She made up yoga poses. Sometimes during cabin time Lauren would do hilarious shows on her bed, sometimes with other people. In one of the shows she tried to imitate everyone’s voices, that didn’t work out so well. At bedtime she didn’t like to shower so she would have a huge fake temper tantrum. One night when the counselors finally got her into the bathroom she said, “can i sing in the shower?” and we said sure, just not too loud. So she immediately started singing “Why you gotta be so cruel?”

Q: Did you get any mail at camp?

A: Yes, I got 13 pieces of mail, so much that I couldn’t even read it all while I was there. I had to read some of it on the way home in the car. It made me very happy to hear from people and lots of the letters were funny.

Q: Tell me about the horses.

A: I spent three hours every morning riding. My horse was named Chocolate Chip, but I called him Chip. The counselors called him Chipwich. I learned to trot and I learned how to go into two-point, which was holding on to the horse’s reins and mane and lifting your bottom up out of the saddle and holding your shoulders back. That’s to stay stable while the horse is trotting. One day one of the counselors made a big x in the middle of the indoor ring. The first three times my horse went over it, he trotted up like he was supposed to and then he slowed down and stepped over it. But the fourth time he jumped! I had not learned to jumped yet so I fell forward off the saddle and onto the horse’s neck and let go of the reins. I was just holding onto his mane. It was terrifying. There were five girls including me in my riding group. They were all at least two years older than me. One day we took a horse named Bugz Bunny to the river and rode bareback in a circle in the river. While we were waiting for our turn or after we had a turn we got to swim in the river. We could not go past the lifeguards. Even though there was a current we were perfectly safe.

Q: Tell me about the other swimming you did.

A: The first few days for free swim (after lunch) we went to the pool. The pool was very big and there was a diving board and a deep end but the deep end wasn’t roped off. Anyone could be there anytime and you didn’t have to wait for the diving board to be done. I went off the diving board a lot at the pool. At the lake there was rope swing, diving board, zipline, and high dive and water slide. I went off the diving board and I went on the rope swing but I never let go so I just came straight back to the counselors. Woopsie! I was going to go off the waterslide but free swim was over just as it was my turn.

Q: Tell me about your afternoon activities.

A: My first afternoon activity was archery. I hit the target! It was very tricky to though. There’s a lot more stuff to archery than you might think. My second afternoon activity was pottery. I made a little taco, a face that said ZR and CF for Zoe Rosso Camp Friendship, and I made a pot but I lost it. It was very lopsided though. Next year I would like to do gymnastics and fishing.

Q: Tell me about what you did at night.

A: On the first night we had campfire, when the whole camp went to a special area and a few counselors lit a big fire. And then after the fire a lot of people come up to the stage to perform. Counselors and campers performed songs, dances, skits, and plain old funny things. They taught us dances. Another night there was a big soccer game between the Camp Friendship counselors and counselors from another camp. Another night there was a big cookout where we had tacos. Two nights we made s’mores at a campfire in junior girls village. Another night we had a huge dance. Everybody came. They played songs like “Honey I’m Good,” a song from Mulan, “Shut Up and Dance with Me,” and “Uptown Funk.” I danced a lot. It was awesome.

Q: Do you want to go back?

A: Yes, I totally want to go back next year for two weeks. I want to go back because I had a lot of fun and I was really sad when I had to come home.

Q: Was there anything interesting you learned there?

A: I thought that learning how to muck a horse’s stall, groom a horse, and tack up a horse was very cool. I even gave a horse a bath. I also thought it was really cool to learn to shoot a bow and arrow.

ghostgeorgeHe was a line drawing in pale blue, translucent, wearing what I think was a pinstriped suit. I have tried and tried to draw him but I can’t make him come out right. Imagine some combination of Bert from Sesame Street, Jon Hamm, and a triangle. That’s what Ghost George looked like.

Ghost George was my imaginary friend when I was a kid, created sometime during those long seven years before my sister was born, to keep me company. He was an adult male, and a cartoon. He was friendly and lived in the attic. He was married. His wife’s name was Rosemary. I rarely saw her.

Our Honda Odyssey is now named Ghost George in his honor.

Zoe’s imaginary friend, born during those six long years before she had a brother, is named DD (pronounced Dee Dee). DD is quite small–she can fit in your hand or your pocket or your shoe as necessary. She has her own family–a mom, a dad, and siblings named JJ and ZZ. They all live in our house.

Apparently children do not have to be taught how to imagine. A few months ago, Zoe introduced DD to Zeke. He often wanted to hold her. Zoe used DD as an enticement to help us get Zeke to do things. For example, she might say, “Zeke, do you want to take a bath with Zoe?” “NO!” “Zeke, do you want to take a bath with DD?” “YES!” (runs to bathroom and starts undressing). And then they would allow DD to float in small cups and bath toys while they took their bath. Sometimes DD eats dinner with us, out of a very small bowl or cup next to Zoe’s placemat.

Once they even got into an argument about who DD belonged to. Zoe was playing with DD and Zeke tried to grab her, saying, “MINE!” Zoe countered with “No! DD is mine!” We said, “DD is imaginary. You can share her. Maybe she could even sit with both of you at the same time,” or something like that. Zoe said, “No offense, DD” in case bluntly stating DD’s imaginary status might have hurt her feelings.

Zoe said DD was coming with her to camp, riding along in her sneaker. “No matter where I go, DD will always be with me. She will never leave me.”

Thank goodness DD is loyal like that. I hope she’s providing good company to Zoe, maybe riding her horse along with her, perched just inside the horse’s ear.

Supposedly my child will be riding a horse through a river this week. What?!?

Supposedly my child will be riding a horse through a river this week. What?!?

I can’t quite comprehend how I just left my daughter 119 miles away from me for a week. It was her idea, but I went along with it (and paid for it). Last year after getting a taste of riding a real horse on her own (not just being led in a circle on a pony as she had experienced many times before) in a lesson facilitated by our friends who live out near Shenandoah, she asked to attend horse camp. There are camps in the DC area where you can ride, but none that would be an easy daily commute for me, and after four or five years of shuttling Zoe to a variety of camps all summer, I’ve come to realize that even driving to downtown Falls Church every morning during rush hour can be challenging. I told her if she wanted to ride horses at camp she’d probably have to go to sleepaway camp. “OK,” she replied without a moment’s hesitation. “Really?” I asked, “You’re up for going to sleepaway camp?” She swore she was, so I began to research.

I sent away for brochures and we attended camp fairs. There are a LOT of camps out there, many of which seem really cool. Some of which seem awful, but just in my opinion–I’m confident there are lots of great people who want want to spend two weeks at dairy farm camp. Zoe was not one of them. I found two camps in Virginia that feature significant opportunities for horseback riding for beginners. One of which was way more expensive than the other. So we tentatively chose Camp Friendship, and watched the promotional dvd they sent us in the mail. Zoe’s eyes grew wider by the scene. At the end she said, “I’m not going to want to go home after a week!”

Not to say that she wasn’t extremely nervous for the past few days. She was. She spoke repeatedly of her stomach doing backflips. She wasn’t hungry, which is never true of her. Ever. I was also nervous, although not quite so much. I tried not to project my anxiety, although she is intuitive and we tend to feed off each other. I do my best to me a calm presence for her but I’m not a good liar. She confided that she was not at all worried about the days at camp because she was looking forward to so many cool activities. In addition to the equestrian program, which she will participate in every morning, she is planning to try archery, fishing, and maybe even swinging off a rope into the lake.

She was mostly worried about the nights, when she would not have us to tuck her in or sing or read to her, and where she would be surrounded by the sounds of nature instead of the hum of traffic construction noise that she’s used to. (Tonight they are milling and paving outside on our street and our whole house is vibrating). We did spend a while last night discussing strategies to help her relax and fall asleep at camp. I reminded her of the lovingkindness meditation that I taught her in kindergarten. She had no memory of what I was talking about, but that’s ok. She thought it was a good idea. She said she could talk to her faithful canine companion Ralph, who she was bringing with her, or her cat Fireheart. She could read with her tiny book light that she brought. Yesterday my brother-in-law unexpectedly gave her a little tasseled Asian monkey figurine, which may have been hanging from his rearview mirror, as a good luck charm, which was quite sweet and thoughtful, and she said she could hold onto that if she needed extra comfort. I’m sure the first night is the hardest, and it’s almost midnight now, so surely she found a way to fall asleep tonight and hopefully it did not involve tears.

When we arrived at camp today, smack in the middle of the check-in window, she was a little pale. Our first stop was at the nurses table to hand over her medication and vitamins. She had asked me earlier in the day if I thought any other campers there had ever taken medication. I assured her that there were plenty. When we talked with the nurses, Zoe observed two huge crates full of medications, including one that she takes, and she smiled. The nurse told her that after breakfast an announcement is made that anyone who needs medication should go downstairs to the clinic at that time. I said to Zoe, “I bet a lot of kids go,” and one of the nurses said, “yeah, there’s a whole wave of kids.” And the other nurse said, “it’s more like a tsunami of kids.” Zoe was visibly relieved. It occurred to me that one of the benefits of this camp experience for her might be the opportunity to observe the challenges and circumstances that all kinds of kids from everywhere have to deal with, and a realization that she’s not the only kid aggravated by bodily systems that don’t work perfectly. Our second stop was the head check, where it was confirmed that she doesn’t have lice, which is always good. What a weird job that counselor had to run her hands through everyone’s hair all afternoon.

Zoe’s counselor is Russian and the junior counselor is Mexican. Among the people who gave us directions, which were many since we managed to get lost a few times while we were there, we detected German and Australian accents. All the counselors seemed energetic and friendly but also so young. I felt like there weren’t many adults around. Perhaps these people are adults, even though they look like children themselves. Perhaps I am just old.

Through the camp’s website you can send emails to your camper, which are printed out and distributed at breakfast, and have them hand write a response, which is scanned and emailed back to you. Of course this costs money, but how can you put a price on such correspondence? You may argue that camp is supposed to be about being away from your family and independent and then you have stories to tell at the end of the week, but this is 2015 and if there’s a way to keep in touch, people will do it, and you don’t want your kid to be the only one not getting messages from her parents, do you? Thankfully, no electronics are allowed there, so that’s something. There is a lot of nature and no air conditioning in the cabins. I brushed away the spider webs in the corner when I made her bed on the top bunk.

It’s going to be strange around here all week without her here. I hope she misses us less than I know we will miss her.

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