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Dear Mom

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Dear Mom,

I hate camp the beds are so hard I can’t sleep the cabins r moldy the food is crap stale pasta and moldy salad there are bats in the showers and if I don’t where shower shoes I get warts I love u and if u love me you’ll rescue me from hell soon

Love BJ :’(

This was the first letter I ever received from sleep-away camp. After one day. Did I freak out? Did I demand a conference call with the director—wait, no—the founder of camp? Did I insist on a refund plus $500 for future therapy sessions to address the psychological harm that the rabid flying bats in attack mode leering at my naked child in the shower have surely caused? And dammit, I had just gotten my kid to eat salad! The moldy lettuce thing could cause quite a setback. No. No, I did not do any of these things. (However, I admit to some level of disappointment with my son’s letter: the massive run-on sentence, absence of punctuation and the misspelling of the word “wear”…)

I do not remember my first day of sleep-away camp. I do remember my last. I was sobbing as “Uncle Fuzz” soulfully strummed the guitar with his eyes closed and head raised toward the stars and sky singing “The Cats in the Cradle” as we had our final campfire of the summer. And I remember the middle part of camp: staying up late gossiping about the cute boys; polar bearing into the freezing lake; riding horses; seeing a snake and nearly peeing myself; laughing so hard in my cabin after a major overload of sugar from someone’s cleverly hidden stash of candy that I did pee myself; a skunk smell at night that I not only got used to, but grew fond of, and the friends. Friends I remained pen pals with for years.

Did I have a crappy first day at sleep-away camp? Like I said—don’t remember, don’t know. Probably. My son and I share a very high expectation for things and are easily disappointed when they aren’t exactly what we want them to be. And after all, camp is not school or work—it’s not a have-to. It’s a want-to.

And so, when my kid went to sleep away camp, he—and I—was expecting a lot. For my kid to give up any amount of his summer lounging time and leave us (and probably more importantly to him, his new puppy) is hard. His saying goodbye to the creature comforts of home (which mainly translates into having his phone, a TV and a toilet he doesn’t fear sitting on, as well as his friends and homemade Mickey Mouse pancakes for breakfast every morning) is tough stuff. He’s a kid, so he’s thinking this camp better be really, really good.

As for me, after all the research, cash and my personal reassurances, I’m thinking this camp better be better than good. This camp better be GREAT! But come ‘on! It’s the first day. And although I did cringe reading about the wart-juice infested shower floor, (I even absent-mindedly touched my feet where plantar warts had once lived thanks to the YMCA pool showers) I’m not panicking—yet.

I believe myself to be a well-intended parent with activity sign-ups for my kids, and I always consult my kids ahead of time when the idea is mine. Admittedly, some of the choices I initiate fare better than others. Signing up my Play-Doh-throwing child for ceramics? Good choice. (Great choice actually—we’ve found he’s gifted with clay.) Signing up the palest child in the world for an all-day outdoor sports camp in which he spent 99.9 percent of the time in the sun and/or on a black concrete slab? Bad, bad choice. I had a tomato for a son that summer. But I’ve learned to celebrate the hits and forgive the misses because how else are my kids supposed to figure out what they might love if I don’t give them the encouragement, opportunity and space to explore it?

So, I see this first day of camp S.O.S. letter as a test, a test for us both. Do I want my kid to have the best two weeks ever? Of course I do. Did I feel a sad, sinking sensation in my heart when I first read the letter? Yes I did. Was there an itty-bitty part of me that wondered, just for a moment, if my minivan that is on it’s very last legs of existence, could make a frantic, pedal-to-the-metal drive up to rescue my kid from his suffering of cardboard mattresses, bad food, bats and looming foot warts? Yup. But it was just for a moment. Because he’ll be OK. Even if he ends up coming home with more war stories than triumphs, he’ll have survived. And so will have I. And anyways, the kid has his rabies shot.

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