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.