Running is not the optimal form of exercise for me. My left knee with its largely excised menisci probably shouldn’t have to endure the pounding of my not-inconsiderable frame. Running isn’t really optimal for weight loss. I should have a more varied workout regime to be fitter and healthier.
But about three years ago I figured out that this was a classic case of “the perfect is the enemy of the good” and laced up some shoes and went for a jog. I haven’t really stopped since, although I also haven’t improved. I’m slow – my “record times” are like 10:30/mile and my longest run is just over 4 miles. Still, I’m out there once or twice a week!
So when I heard that Camp Wilmot, scene of my children’s happiest memories and moral development, was doing a fundraising 5k to raise scholarship funds to be able to welcome more kids, I was mightily tempted. But then I looked at the date. September 22nd. On September 23rd, it will somehow be 40 years since my mother did all the hard work of introducing me into the world. My 40th birthday. The big Four Oh. And my husband had put a block on my calendar for the weekend, so it was right out. Couldn’t be done. Even though there was going to be a campfire and ceilidh and overnight and breakfast in the morning. In possible the most beautiful New England fall week of the year. Not possible.
Then the begging started. PLEEEEEEZE MOM! LET US GO BACK TO CAMP WILMOT.
So I asked my husband *exactly* when I needed to be back in Stoneham and the answer was: as soon as you’ve finished running the 5K. SCORE!!!! We’re headed to Wilmot, boys!
I don’t want for many things in this world (although any implication that I’ve bought every single one of the shiny iridescent school supplies I’ve encountered this year is true). But I really really DO want more children to have opportunities like Camp Wilmot. I have first hand experience seeing that it changes the life of the children who attend it. My kids come back thoughtful, kinder, centered, with a sense of belong and purpose. I know other kids hang on to it as a loving lifeline in a hard world. And I know that for a lot of kids, scholarships are the only way that lifeline is available.
So, if you are feeling like you are desperate to give me a gift for my 40th (or just interested in making a difference in kids’ lives), please consider a contribution in any size to Camp Wilmot. And if you’re starting to think that a sleepover, cookout, ceilidh & brisk autumn run or walk sound pretty tempting, it’s certainly not too late to sign up!
Camp Wilmot was awesome for the kids. I picked them up too early on Saturday morning, and got great big hugs. They missed me (after two and three weeks, one would hope so), but they loved where they were and who they were there with. As we headed towards home, Grey said he didn’t know what he wanted more: to stay or to return home. Alas for him, there was no choice. It was time to go home.
Our communication with our kids while they were gone was… sparse. We got one dictated email and two letters. The letters arrived on the same day and spoke to the inability to find stamps. (Headdesk) Thane’s were loving, but low on news not related to the inability to find his stamps. Grey’s said he missed us, gave us a laundry list of stuff he wanted, and then told us he was experimenting with vegetarianism during camp. Given that the camp chef (Anthony) has a version of BBQ chicken that causes both children to wax rhapsodic, this seemed like a short-lived but great idea in the first week of camp. But when I picked him up at the end of week 3, he very politely and cooperatively let me know that he’d like to continue eating vegetarian (pescatarian, actually).
He said it was pretty easy, at camp. There was always a vegetarian option, and he ate that one. He said that sometimes he didn’t like it very well but he ate it anyway because he was hungry and it was food. That amazing concept is one greatly needed in our world!
Adam made bacon today, and Grey didn’t eat any. This is serious.
I’m fully supportive. At a few months shy of 13, this is a great age to experiment with different way of being. It’s an excellent time to explore intersections of identity, sacrifice, values & choices. I’ve let him know that he’s not allowed to become a pastatarian (a version of vegetarianism I saw often in college where the vegetarian in question ate few vegetables and many carbs). But he’s been eating salads lately. When you cut out one whole food group, you need to be open minded towards the others. I’d love for him to discover the many great foods available in our modern world which do not hinge upon meat. This is an experiment for all of us – no shame if he lets it run it’s course or decides it’s not the right road or the forever road for him.
That’s the most of the visible of the changes, but there are others as well. Both kids seem more thoughtful about what matters, and careful with the thoughts and feelings of others. They’ve slowed down, detoxed from screens, gotten great base tans and made new friends. They’ve exercised their moral muscles. They are changed, grown, matured. They are a step closer to being the people they will become, and I’m really impressed and pleased with who they are. And even though the house stayed really clean while they were gone, I’m glad to have them back.
Now that Grey’s on this health food kick, he’s gotten serious in the kitchen too. He and a friend fantasized about this cake for days, and then they got together and made it happen. This is a quad layer cake with vanilla frosting AND icing. It’s got crushed pop-tarts and chocolate bars. But it has strawberries, which makes it healthy, right? Right? And heck – it’s vegetarian.
As we close the book on the summer, I can’t help but think that this will be The Summer. I’m sure you had a summer like that – a summer you look back to in your childhood. It stands out golden and long and joyful, and is the marker for what summer should be. My Summer was when I was 9, and it included a pond and a raft, waves of grasshoppers that would explode from every footstep I took and journeys through the wild woods behind my house.
This summer, Grey was 11 and Thane was 8. And if this summer wasn’t peak-childhood-summer, I don’t know what could be.
We did a bit of pre-season summering with our first camping trip of the year, to the Waterville Valley Campground. It was a superbly relaxing weekend. We didn’t go very far or do very much, and were contented to hang out in hammocks and read books and be together. It was a superb camping trip, and we resolved in the future to carefully plan more nothing for our camping trips.
The summer started a bit quietly. School ended in mid June. We spent the last few weeks of June saying goodbye to our dear and beloved friends, as they prepared to move. We spent absolutely as much time together as possible, including heading up to New Hampshire together to celebrate about five of the kids’ birthdays. I armed them all with NERF for some epic neighborhood battles.
It was a strangely empty neighborhood we left for our longest camping trip of the year, the 4th of July trip, to our ancestral camping grounds at White Lake State Park. We’ve been there every summer since Thane was a 9 month old, and it never ceases to be a favorite of all of ours. You can take a hike, hang in a hammock, go down to the beach, ride bikes or forage for the sweet fern which grows nearby. In keeping with the traditions of our camping trip, there was extreme weather. In this case, we upped our game to include tornado warning, which sent us to a favorite local watering hole. In this case, the correlation between the soccer game we wanted to watch and the necessity to shelter in place was very serendipitous. We returned to a campsite that hadn’t been evacuated, but which had been clearly flash-flooded. Since we include moderate flooding in all our camping plans, this was accepted as nothing more than expected excitement.
We’d only be home a few days from the camping trip when the second annual Flynn’s Fiery Feast came up. It was a particularly peripatetic adventure, since the weather was gorgeous… between storm cells. So we kept moving the people and the stuff in and out, and in and out. Everyone was remarkably good sports about the whole thing.
The very next day, it was time to drive to New Hampshire again (a theme in my summer) to drop an extremely confident eldest son off at his third (or fourth?) year at Camp Wilmot. We spent a special week at home with our littlest one, and got exactly one letter from our eldest telling us what we’d forgotten to pack him. The next Sunday found me driving that oh-so-familiar stretch of 93 to drop Thane off for his first year. He sent three letters in six days, earning the “Mailman” award at camp. When Erin and I picked up our collected progeny, Thane told me that as much as Grey loved Camp Wilmot, he (Thane) loved it more.
We picked the kids up from New Hampshire on Saturday. On Sunday, we drove up to New Hampshire for a tubing trip on the Saco (rescheduled from the 4th weekend when the river was at flood stage). We had a great time throwing frisbees and floating, with the exception of the section where Thane and I managed to get totally tangled up, lose our tubes and I permanently lost my favorite hair thingy. Woe! Thane is not a huge fan of tubing after that, sadly.
They had a whole five days between that tubing trip to recover before it was time for my company summer outing at Six Flags. It rained, but that just meant that there were ZERO lines for the biggest baddest rides. Thane is now tall enough for Superman (the biggest of the Six Flags roller coasters, and a legitimately big one). They have no fear, those children. It was neat to be able to do it with friends, as well!
The day after our Six Flags adventure, we flew to Barcelona and spent a totally jetlagged day there, as well as most of a second, walking the green and joyful espalandes of Las Ramblas. Thane chased the pigeons, we ate ice cream and caught Pokemon and lost ourselves in the rambling alleys of the Gothic Quarter.
The next day we went up to Montjuic on the Funicular, and spent time going deep on the history of that grim fortress – first built to protect the city and then used to terrorize it. We walked in the gulleys where hundreds were executed, and watched the flags flying with philosophical questions.
The next day we took the train from Barcelona to Carcassonne. As we sped through the Mediterranean countryside, the boys opened their dice bags and continued the role-playing games that have threaded through all the fun times of our journey. Carcassonne city was glorious. We stayed in the newer section (you know, like 1600) in this Roaring 20s era hotel near the train station. We’d walk through the high end shops and cross the bridge to go up to the medieval city itself. It was truly remarkable, even knowing that it had been restored a mere shmere 130 or so years ago. You could lay your hands against stones that had been placed there by the Romans as they spread across Europe. But there was this whole lack of self-consciousness of the weight of history that only the Europeans can really pull off. Even the medieval city felt lived in, as though it was home to real people.
Also, the cassoulet was unbelievable.
Our greatest highlight of the Carcassonne portion of our visit was the day we spent with James MacDonald visiting Lastour and Minerve, and coming to come to intimately know the Cathars and the Crusaders who persecuted them. Climbing up to the remarkable towers at Lastours was unbelievable. It looked like a Byronic play backdrop. Minerve seemed barely changed at all from the siege of 1220, except for the Victorian bridge that now spanned the chasms. Between them we visited a neolithic tomb. There are some days where you can feel yourself accruing the value of your life. Days where you find the very meaning that you have longed and yearned for. This day was all that – to gaze on these places and walk their worn steps. It was remarkable.
Adam and I passed our 17th anniversary in the warmth of Barcelona, before we headed back to the states from a truly remarkable week in the 13th century. (And a scant week before terrorists plowed through the crowds we’d just been part of in Las Ramblas.)
Once again, we gave the boys a gracious allowance of a week before the next thing. Although this particular week, we sent them to boating camp on Spot Pond where they spent six or so hours a day on the water honing their sailing and kayaking skills. I counted, and the children kayaked on three distinct bodies of water this summer, in three different states. I kayaked in zero bodies of water. I think this shows that my children are living more wisely than I am.
My folks departed Boston ASAP on Friday night after they finished boating camp for parts west, racing the sun across the country to be in Idaho Falls in totality to witness the complete eclipse. On the way they passed through Niagara Falls, Minnesota with their cousins, Wall Drug, the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, the Hiawatha Trail (where they went on a 17 mile bike ride) and Yellowstone. They also kayaked on Mineral Lake at the end of their journey.
They got back from this adventure about 3 days before school started. (Meanwhile, I was hiking Chocorua.)
We were supposed to go camping Labor Day weekend. I regret that we didn’t. It is not restful to be home, I swear. But we were so worn out from all our wanderings that we just stayed at home and took a deep breath in preparation for our busiest season, the fall.
But truly, if that doesn’t count as the best summer of your childhood (maybe your life?) then, well, I’m not really sure what it is you are hoping for. It was a glimmering, golden, busy, joy-filled, friend-filled, nature-filled, history-filled, ice-cream-filled summer, and I will treasure it forever.
My first church camp was Camp Ghormley*, up on White Pass in Washington State. I went in maybe 1986 with my church youth group. I was young – Thane’s age perhaps. I remember loving the songs around the campfire, the way the bark on the pine trees fit like a puzzle, the deliciousness of a 5c green apple Jolly Rancher, and that our youth director (in one week) fell off the zip line and hit his head (blood everywhere) and slid down the railing of a cabin in tight shorts (extensive and embarrassing splinter removal). His name was Clayton, he had a Texan accent and a funny tick of jerking his head to his shoulder. We tried really hard to keep him out of trouble, but it took more than the combined powers of our Church youth group to work miracles like that.
There are no photos of me at Ghormley. Cameras were expensive. I certainly wouldn’t have given one to a kid to take to camp. So all I have are vague memories and well-memorized camp songs.
In fourth grade, we moved from the town with the big Presbyterian Church (it was PCUSA at the time) and to a town where on some Sundays the folks on the “Great War” honor roll were more plentiful than the folks worshiping in the pews. There wasn’t a youth group (there were four of us though!) but there was still Presbytery church camp. After a break of a year or two, I went to Buck Creek (now defunct, I’m afraid) where I went backpacking for the first time in my life. Even though we got rained out and were poorly kitted, I was totally and completely hooked on backpacking. We slept under the stars, back at the field at Buck Creek, and the Perseids were in full blossom across the sky and I could not shut my eyes. From then on, I took every possible opportunity to do backpacking camp. I loved the backpacking. I loved nature. I loved the songs, and the sense of worship. It’s still one of the most holy things for me.
So when Grey was like in 1st grade I started looking up the Presbyterian Camps in the area. Our church had a relationship with Camp Wilmot, so it was a short search. The very first summer he was old enough, he was signed up. But as I followed circuitous GPS directions into the “parking lot” (eg field area) I was struck by serious doubts. He was so little. He was so clearly uncertain, and nervous. And so was I, I realized. I knew *no one* at this camp. No kids. No grownups. Nothing. I was going to leave my beloved first-born child in the wilderness in the hands of strangers.
I drove away anyway.
Around Thursday I got a letter. It was short – two sentences. They were both dedicated to how amazing Anthony’s BBQ chicken was.
When I picked him up he was tired, happy to see me, and ready to come back again the next year.
The next year, he talked no fewer than four of his friends into coming to camp with him. (I think he’ll do very well in sales, if he chooses, as a career.) Where he’d been alone and afraid the first year, he was in excellent company and confident the second. And he remembered his favorite “camp shirt” as well.
Last year he was ready to do both sessions. He’d originally claimed that he didn’t need to be picked up, but called on Thursday asking for a day at home. They don’t go to bed until like 10 pm there and they’re up at 7, which is a short sleep ration for a kid his age. Also, I think he missed the cats.
This year is going to be the epicalest yet. Today I drove a packed car up to New Hampshire with a wild game of poker in the backseat (Grey: “I packed poker chips!”) and a friend in the front seat. This year he’s going to do a full two weeks. On the second week, his brother will head to camp for HIS first ever sleepaway camp (and Adam and I will be childless! Craziness!) And he and his Camp Wilmot compatriots have been talking about the awesomeness of the camp all year. This year, a total of ELEVEN kids from our town will make the trek up to White’s Pond to experience Anthony’s BBQ chicken.
There are so many incredible and wonderful things summer camp does. It gives us all practice in living without each other. The role of a parent is to raise a child who doesn’t need us. Camp is an excellent experiment in structured self-reliance. No one made Grey change his shirt, but he came home happy and healthy. He packs his own bag. He knows things that we do not know. I think it’s a grievous thing to send a person to independence for the very first time when they are an adult, and there is no safety net. Summer camp is how you practice for college. It’s also a place for children to have deep meaningful thoughts, and begin to stretch the muscles of what *they* believe and what *they* think and what’s important to *them*. Some of my greatest moments of faith happened at summer camp. I can only pray that my sons find the experience meaningful and moving too.
It also plays an important role for we parents. I am more than halfway through the raising of Grey. Thane is only a few years behind him. Who are Adam and I, when we are not coparents? What interests do we share? What bonds have we strengthened? In the week our children are learning to kayak and kyrie, we can also remember the love we have for each other.
It’s hard to walk away from your kid, like I did that first year. It’s hard when your kid walks away from you and doesn’t look back. But it’s good and right that they practice doing just that.
If you’d like to follow along with all the info we get on camp, you can follow “Camp Wilmot’s Facebook page. If you’re suddenly dying to send your kid, you can still register for week 2. And if you happen to have a truck that will pass registration and which you don’t want anymore, that’s a tough capital purchase for a scrappy summer camp. They’d be incredibly grateful for the donation!
* If I’d known about this at the time, my campfire ghost stories would’ve been epic! “But upon his sudden death in 1948 (he was stricken fatally ill at the camp as he was preparing to begin a week of camp for children) members of the church moved to have the camp named after him.”
Yesterday, after a few farewell bike laps around White Lake State Park, we crawled into the car and across the mighty Kankamangus (for the second day in a row). The fragrance of lots and lots of soap wafted up from the back seat from a soon-to-be-fourth-grader (can that really be true?) who was disappointed that we would not be at Camp Wilmot at the earliest possible hour for dropping off. He demonstrated considerable maturity by not whining – too much – about that.
We pulled up, and I waited for the faintest hint of uncertainty or doubt to creep in. Gone! For a week! From MEEEEEE!!!!
Here’s what he looked like when that time came last year:
This year, though, he was a pro. A returning camper. One in the know, as it were. He was excited about the BBQ chicken, the staying up late, the polar bear dances and did I mention the BBQ chicken? He bounded out of the car as soon as I put it in park and disappeared. Not only was he back on familiar turf, but he had the additional advantage of having no fewer than FOUR of his friends from school there to join him.
To my great consternation I dropped him off wearing the same t-shirt he wore EVERY DAY last year. I admit to great curiosity about whether he’ll change it at all this year.
Grey handily passed his deep end test, and practically pushed us out of the grounds. “BYE MOM!” No hugs – the guys are watching. He vibrated with enjoyment and independence. We headed back to camp ground one fewer than our accustomed four.
Thane is handling only childhood with aplomb, so far. We watched the Women’s World Cup awesomeness at a local establishment, and he watched the whole thing high up on a stool with us. (Which – aside – that was SO MUCH FUN!)
Grey has 7 teeth (seven!) and is doing very well eating solids. His parents are perhaps doing less well in figuring out what solids are kid-friendly, nutritious and easy to make. Grey can now hold his own sippy cup to drink water.
Wait, what’s that you say? My son is not nine months old, but nine years?! Impossible! Irrational! Unbelievable! Why, nine years old is practically a grownup! A real person! I was in Mr. White’s class when I was nine, learning about the Civil War and charting weather patterns based on newspapers. My son can’t be nine, can he?
He can be, and he is.
Writing about Grey has gotten harder. He dislikes it when I’ve posted some cute picture or story on Facebook, and he hears about it Sunday from the wonderful, caring grownups there. He’s asked – fairly – that I get his permission before I post stories or pictures about him. The editing makes perfect sense from his point of view, but I miss getting to tell you everything. He’ll read, and approve, this story before I publish it. (This is my excuse for why it’s late.) Only he and I know which lines got crossed out. He would like me to tell you, though, that he’s got his oft-neglected blog Wacky Wonder Comics.
The most notable difference about Grey is his steadiness. He will always be a person who feels life deeply, with meteoric highs and abysmal lows. First grade, in particular, roiled for us, with far too much time spent in subterranean unhappiness. But second grade, with a beloved teacher, went much better. This summer was profoundly marked by his adventures in Camp Wilmot. He came back a bit more centered, confident, quieter and capable. Since then, there have been small but profound changes. For example, he now does his chores quickly and without delay or whining right when he gets home. He seems to rebound faster from disappointments. He is trying harder – he has picked himself up from the dirt of the soccer field and taken off running. I didn’t see that from him even this spring. His grit is catching up to his smarts.
Grey only wanted one thing for his birthday: a Chromebook. He, like his parents, loves video games. Although we have taught him how to live in a world without screens, there’s no denying that given his druthers he be online and connected. His homework has gotten more serious about online work lately, with some great math, typing and science programs. So… for his birthday he got a Chromebook. I loaded the bookmarks with the best of the internet. I set him up with a Khan Academy account. I put algebra games into his app store.
He figured out where to find the best online games, changed the background, and commented on a G+ picture I posted.
For the first time, today, he and I had an email exchange that I had not had to choreograph. The internet has been a wonderful thing for me, but I still have trepidation on seeing his first steps onto the road of the larger digital world, where the best and the worst of humanity and human history lurk mere clicks away from each other.
Grey is growing in every way. He’s watching M*A*S*H with me at night. He’s arguing that he’s too big for his booster seat. He’s three inches away from being right, at four and a half feet. He has a sense of style and a clothing preference. When he draws comics, he includes guidelines so the boxes are square. He loves cats, my chili and comic books. When he and his friends play Minecraft together, every other word is “Dude”. He asked me the other day if he’d always be my baby. I told him that no doubt, he’d always be my baby. But with the quickly passing years, he is also now my boy, quickly growing to be my young man. I love him, and I’m proud of him.