I stood there for a long time looking at the letter. It felt so light. I thought that was funny. How something as weighty as what could be inside could feel so…flimsy and insubstantial. I had just returned from the gym where one swollen-eyed mom had shared her devastating sleep-away camp story to a gaggle of us who hadn’t heard from our own kids since they jetted off to overnight camp for the summer. What could be inside this envelope? I was almost too fearful to open it. “Maybe I’ll wait till my husband comes home from work,” I thought. That was too 1950s subservient housewife for me though. No. The letter was to me. I needed to open it by myself.
Images of my 9 year old self flooded my memory. My first summer at sleep-away camp was devastating. I wasn’t ready to leave home for 8 weeks. But, that’s what upper middle class families in the Midwest did back then. Moms needed a break so kids were shipped off to camps in the North Woods of Wisconsin and Michigan and parents got two months of time off from parenting.
And some kids did great for those two months. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them. I wrote treatises to my folks, promising to do all the chores I could think of around the house, and agreeing to let overbearing relatives with boundary issues cuddle and kiss me without complaint. If only they would come and take me home. The letters must have been heart-breaking. I never once thought about how they would affect my parents. Until now.
What if Levi, my 10 year old, was lonely? What if he was sad? What if he hadn’t made any friends and cried himself to sleep? What if he wanted to come home? I couldn’t bear to think of him so far away and so unhappy.
I also wondered if there really was some kind of karmic poetic justice in life. My gut-wrenching camp letters coming back to haunt me as an adult. I did have a moment of levity, however, recalling the second year I returned to camp and copied letters from Art Linkletter’s book “Letters From Camp.” I plagiarized the wackiest pages of that book and sent ‘em home, signed by me. I never imagined my mom would actually believe the ridiculous scenarios I created in print. I hope Levi never saw that book.
I took a deep breath and opened the letter. It was short but moderately legible. He was happy. He loves camp. He’s got friends. He’s got great counselors. Hooray! This was a good thing. No tear stains. No pleas to come home. He did say he missed me. That felt kind of nice. But my boy is doing well on his own. He’s only there for 12 days. I think that’s plenty of time for now. If he wants to go for longer in a few years, I’ll be okay with that.
But for now, I can rest easy, knowing that my young man is safe, happy and not trying to torment me with colorful letters from someone else’s imagination. Btw, mom, I’m sorry I scared you by copying Art Linkletter’s books. I was just trying to make you laugh. Honest.