Sam Davies’s daughter braved the unfamiliar territory of sleepaway camp, while the rest of his family had a weird week without her.
Photo by: Kathleen Tyler Conklin
My eight-year-old went to sleepaway camp for the first time last week. Below is a day-by-day account of one dad’s journey with one less child for one week.
Camp is tomorrow and I’ve just put my eight-year-old to bed (the five-year-old’s been asleep for an hour). It’s time for my wife, Kat, and I to put the finishing touches on the packing. Over the past several weeks, Kat’s been buying and gathering supplies, writing my daughter’s name on all items with a sharpie. We sit at the kitchen table and each write our daughter letters that she’ll open while at camp. Camp’s only a week long, so to ensure delivery, we will be leaving these with the camp, with instructions to deliver on particular dates. Kat’s included self-addressed stamped envelopes for our daughter to write us (or close relatives and friends) letters, but expect she probably won’t.
Today is drop-off day. We drive the hour to get to the camp and finally turn down the gravel road. A counselor directs us where to park, with instructions to back our car in, for safety reasons. We unload the car and discover that the duffle bag full of my daughter’s camp things is too heavy for her to carry. I assume my role as family pack mule. As we approach the line at the gate, I see a sign “No open toe shoes past this point.” I’m wearing my Chacos. I’ve already broken the rules.
We hit the first waystation of the check-in funnel. The first in a series meant to deliver our children to paid strangers in an orderly fashion. Without the funnel, there’d be chaos, so I welcome it, even though directions are not always clear as to exactly what we’re supposed to do next.1
As we enter the camp proper, it looks very familiar. Kat and I were in the same high school marching band together, and Turns Out™, we went to band camp at this camp 20 years ago. I’m moderately excited about this coincidence, but don’t express it outwardly because I know that no one but my wife and I would really care.
We reach the end of the funnel at the cabin, our daughter’s home for the next week, and all semblance of order breaks down. Ten seven- and eight-year-old girls are all moving into a very small space at the same time with the help of their parents. Kat makes our daughter’s bed, and organizes her things, a task I don’t believe I would have been capable of. I move outside with the five-year-old, who is hot, tired, thirsty, and cranky.
And then, we say goodbye and leave. There’s no drama, and it’s just a quick goodbye, like it’s a school drop-off or a birthday party. My face mirrors my daughter’s–a hint of sadness masked under a genuine smile. We hug and the three of us who are driving back to Richmond start to walk out of the woods towards the car.
We go out to dinner at a restaurant the eight-year-old would not enjoy. Turns Out™ the five-year-old doesn’t really like it either.
The house is quiet, almost too quiet. It feels like something’s wrong. There’s one kid to get ready in the morning, one kid to clean up after, only one kid’s needs to balance. One kid is easier than two kids. Everything is more manageable, but at the cost of our home feeling empty.
That evening the five-year-old needs a trip to the pediatrician. It requires little to no coordination between my wife and me. We decide who’s going to take her, then take her.
Kat and I continue our watch of the third season of Orange is the New Black. There’s an episode where a mother character drops her kid off at camp, leaves her kid crying, then returns at the end of camp distraught that it seems like her kid no longer needs her. I can’t even with this episode while my kid’s at camp.
At our dinners, we regularly ask “What do you think your sister’s eating tonight?” I’ve reconciled myself to probably getting to hear very few details about camp from my daughter upon her return. This is her time, and, while I’ll take whatever she wants to share with me, I won’t press for it or demand it.
I clear my work calendar for the next day so that I can be there at pickup. We finish tidying up the house. The house still feels empty and I’m ready to hug my kid.
The five-year-old makes up and teaches us a card game called “Puppy.”
It’s pick up day! We arrive shortly after the earliest “arrive no earlier than” time, and go through the reverse funnel. Turns Out™, we don’t get to see our kid until the closing ceremony in about two hours. The girls have already packed their bags and left them out for us. There’s no claim ticket system, so I guess I could’ve stolen a bag of smelly laundry from an eight-year-old, but I opt against it. We load up the car and then try to amuse the five-year-old until the ceremony begins.
Sitting in the amphitheater, we’re provided with entertainment in the form of the counselors-in-training singing silly camp songs for us. This continues until we hear the chants of 50 girls marching towards us. Girl after girl files in until the last group, my daughter’s group, enters. I see her. She sees me. We both wave and I see my child with the biggest grin possible on her face. I know the same stupid grin is on mine. I really, really missed this kid.
Epilogue: Saturday morning
Oh God, can you both please pick up your dishes? Can you just give me a second? I’m trying to do this other thing, so I can do this second thing, then I can do that third thing. The house is no longer quiet.