Last Thursday we dropped Grace off at camp. My heart was still soggy from the night before, but I put on my sunglasses and got in the car and off we headed. As we drove the familiar roads on Cape Cod, turned into the driveway with the archery range and sun-bleached grassy front fields, I was flooded with memories. The smiling, white-clad Junior Counselors looked so young, and I choked up inside. I was trying to reconcile the fact that I was just them with the knowledge that that was more than half my lifetime ago.
After a check-in at the infirmary (we passed the lice test, yay!) off we went to Cabin 50.
Cabin 50 is directly across from Cabin 54, the place where I first laid eyes on Jessica and commenced a lifetime friendship. I’m not sure Julia and Grace were as moved by this detail as Jess and I were, but we both noted the proximity of the place where it all began, and smiled, eyes glistening. We helped the girls unpack, Grace on the top bunk and Julia on the bottom. Then they put on suits and we headed up to the pool, with the other new Juniors, for their swimming test.
The daughter of another dear friend of mine from camp was also in the girls’ cabin. Three of them! My head swims looking at this picture, remembering when we were 10 and when we were 16 and when we were 21, of all the experiences we shared in this very same place. And we all have girls, and hopefully they are embarking on a similar road, together. I had tears in my eyes the whole time we were there.
There was no good time to leave so we did so, somewhat abruptly, at the pool. They were waiting for their test and we were the only parents still there. I can’t get the way Grace looked at me out of my head: her eyes were filled with wild surprise, nearing panic, and sadness swamped her entire face. I hugged her and kissed her and walked away. Their JCs and counselors swarmed around the crying girls, their white backs blocking them. So we couldn’t see, as we walked, if they were still crying, but we sure were. I don’t like the way I left her, but I’m not sure if any moment would have been better. At least this way, my friend said, they had something to focus on immediately, a task to dive into, both literally and figuratively.
I was utterly shocked by how sad I was, all day long. It pains me to admit that – what mother didn’t expect to miss her child? – but it’s true. I knew I’d miss her, but I didn’t really think through the visceral, physical missing: the tears that wouldn’t stop, the ache in my chest, the way I winced every time I glanced back at her empty booster seat. I know this kind of independence is precisely what I want for my child, and it’s impossible to overstate how completely I trust this camp to take care of her. I know she will have a wonderful time. But still. Her face, the tears, the abandonment: they rise up in my head, over and over. I guess this is her first experience of Pema’s timeless wisdom about being thrust out of the nest.
I emailed a close friend later that day, expressing the way sorrow had startled me, sharing how much I missed my daughter. She responded immediately with this: “Not surprising. She’s your soulmate in many ways.” These lines stunned me with their truth. This isn’t the first time this friend has knocked me back with her insight and support. My soul yearns for its little partner. Of course it does.
And still, I believe absolutely that this experience will be excellent for her. I hope she makes sturdy, possibly lifetime friendships, I hope she tries new activities, I hope she develops confidence in her own ability to be in the world without me, and I hope she internalizes the camp motto, emblazoned above the outdoor theater: