That’s kind of bizarre, isn’t it? Sorta like the first time you leave your kid at a new daycare, except with summer camp, you drive far away from home and dump them somewhere that isn’t close enough to retrieve them conveniently if necessary.
Emily is at Camp Spalding, about 75 miles north of town. Per her instructions, we were packed and ready to go at 12:15 p.m., even though registration/check-in wasn’t until 3 p.m. As I pulled out of the driveway, she was singing an upbeat, made-up, hip-hop tune about how great it was to leave home for a week. We arrived at 1:45 and were the first parents/campers to arrive. I heard one staffer remark, “Are you kidding, they’re coming already?!”
I didn’t mind being early, as it gave us the chance to explore the grounds and for me to see the beach, mess hall, chapel, trails and much of the grounds, so I can envision where she is throughout the week. Since we were early enough that there were no other kids to watch, Em even posed for me to take pics at several spots. By 3 when check-in started and Em still didn’t see her friend Ellie, she began to panic a bit that there was no one here she knew. “Making new friends is part of the excitement of camp,” I cheered. She began hugging Lavender Dog, the stuffed animal she brought.
When we finished checking in, we headed to her cabin and were greeted by her camp counselors, Natalie and Sarah. Em picked a top bunk and I helped her get her suitcase and sleeping bag in place, then she made a sign with her name on it for her bunk, like all the other girls were doing. We talked with Natalie and Sarah about making sure they had Em’s Epipen whenever they went hiking away from the premises, and Natalie said if it made me feel any better, she’s an EMT. Yes, that makes me feel better!! At least the total stranger I’m paying to hang with my kid can deal with an emergency. (And maybe she’ll tell gory stories about people she’s had to care for, and Em will think that’s cool.)
Reminiscing Gone Awry
To keep from crying on the way home (I know, it’s a bit ridiculous), I reminisced about my own experiences at camp as a kid. There were the classic camps at Cedarcrest, about 30 minutes from home, which I enjoyed—I mean endured—with all the kids I knew from school and church. This had to be the Midwest’s most run-down, mosquito- and snake-infested site to send your kids to. By now, someone has probably burned it down … on purpose. The chapel/assembly hall was like a huge old barn and it was HOT. There was a wooden plank “stage” and an antique out-of-tune upright piano, and old straight-back pews that some local church must have donated about a hundred years ago. The mess hall was small and very basic, and it was where you got to spend free time doing KP as punishment for bad behavior. (Which I experienced during one week when my dad was Camp Pastor.) The cabins were havens for spiders and probably rodents, and you could see the weeds through the slats in the floor. The grounds were pretty weedy and the pathway to the pond left nothing to be desired; then when you made your way to the dock and saw the water, there was no way you wanted to swim in it.
I suppose I owe my ability to camp and survive in primitive conditions to those days at Cedarcrest. Oh, and it was there I learned that if you crunch up Certs in the dark, you can see sparks inside your mouth.
Eventually, my mother was doing to me what I just did to Emily: shipping me off to some far-away camp to spend a week with complete strangers. Windermere was definitely several steps up from Cedarcrest though. It was located on Lake of the Ozarks, and while no lake in Missouri can compare to the lakes of the Northwest, the Ozark area really was pretty. There was a long and winding road to Windermere off the main highway and there were accommodations of every kind – cabins, nicer cabins, lodges and even a hotel. The chapel was beautiful, clean, air-conditioned, and had a nice grand piano that was actually in tune. The dining hall had AC, too, and two long cafeteria-style serving lines with an assortment of choices.
Still … I did not WANT to be at Windermere. I did not want to arrive early as Emily did today and I certainly wouldn’t have posed for photos if my mother had asked. I wasn’t early enough to get first pick and so I ended up with the dreaded BOTTOM bunk, and shared a cabin with a bunch of girls named Jennifer so we had to decide who would be Jen, Jenny, Jennifer and just J. What I did like about the cabin was how far away it was from everything and so close to the woods and trails. I also liked that Windermere had a nice snack shop (should I mention air conditioning?) where we could get soft pretzels, nachos, ice cream and other junk. There was also a boat dock and we could take out paddle boats or canoes. Windermere turned out to be an okay experience and I returned the next year probably with a little less resistance. I don’t remember my cabin counselor for that second summer, but I sure remember skipping chapel and hanging out in the cabin with some girl from Versailles, MO (which, in Missouri is pronounced Ver-SALES). She and her boyfriend (who was obviously not supposed to be in the cabin) would make out. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not sure they were really “making out” because I was always there, just one bunk over. Versales Girl became my pen pal anyway.
This reminiscing has not gone the direction I’d hoped. I wonder if it’s too late for me to go back to Camp Spalding and get Emily … and a refund. No, I will wait for a letter. By tomorrow, she will have put a letter to me in the mail and by the next day, I’ll know that she is scoring friends, soaking up the wisdom from her cool counselors, having a blast bouncing off “the blob” into the lake, rappelling, making s’mores and enjoying those glow-sticks I put into her care package.
She WILL send me a letter from camp, right?