Crawford: Shower shoes and tears: It's time for an 8-year-old's first overnight camp
This week, I stood in the checkout line of a big-box store, looked at the stuff in my shopping cart, and almost burst into tears.
I don’t make a habit of crying in big-box stores. Really, I don’t. But it was the assortment of things in the cart that got to me, and the reason why I was buying them. In a few days, my 8-year-old daughter will go to sleepaway camp for the first time.
In my cart sat brand-new, girl-sized shorts, tops, and socks; kid-sized shampoo, conditioner, and body wash; packs of pens and pencils; a basic pair of flip-flops (to be used as shower shoes); a journal with an iridescent dragonfly on the cover; and a thin photo album.
I held the photo album in my hands and looked up at the cashier, tears in my eyes. I saw my daughter’s sweet face the day before —heard her say, “Mama, when I go to camp, is it alright if I take a picture of you and Daddy with me so I can look at it?”
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I said to the cashier.
“What?” she said in monotone, jaw working a piece of gum.
“Nothing,” I sniffed.
Really, though, I ask you: What am I doing? What mother in her right mind sends her child 4 1/2 hours away, to live with strangers, for five whole nights? What kind of woman hands over her daughter to people who have no idea that that daughter only eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fruit? A daughter who believes that holes in tree trunks are fairy houses, and kissing is gross? One who can recite every line of the first four Harry Potter books, verbatim?
She’s staying in a college dorm, so I bought her shower shoes. For heaven’s sake: You buy shower shoes for college freshmen, not 8-year-olds.
What if her roommates aren’t nice to her? What if her counselors don’t laugh at her goofy jokes? What if she answers every question and doesn’t give anyone else a chance? What if she’s too nervous to speak when she knows the answer? What if she doesn’t like any of the food? What if she gets homesick? What if she doesn’t get homesick?
I only went to overnight summer camp once, as an elementary schooler. All I can remember from the week is the following: setting the table in the dining hall, stepping on a snake during a creek hike, and a girl named Misty, who tossed her curly blonde hair and giggled at a boy named Jesse in a way I found odd and uncomfortable. (Obviously, flirting had not yet entered my wheelhouse.)
Somewhere in the depths of my psyche, where I am smart and normal, I know how life-changing camp can be for a kid. I know that allowing her this special sort of autonomy will do wonders for my daughter’s confidence. How making her own small choices will give her the first tastes of who she wants to be.
She has a great big brain, and the camp is focused on STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. She was nominated to attend by one of her former teachers, and I think she’s aware of the honor. She will study robotics, do detective work, learn about the medical field, and more. There is a very good chance that— like so many lucky kids who attend camps across the country this summer — my silly, brainy, sensitive daughter will find her people.
Oh, I hope so.
While my daughter is 4 1/2 hours away taking her first steps toward personhood, I plan to sit tight. To practice yoga. To say my prayers. And to try my best to be as brave as she is.
Katherine Scott Crawford is a historical novelist, history buff, hiker and mom who lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.