by Risa Green
Thirteen years ago, when my husband (then my boyfriend) was trying to convince me to move with him to Los Angeles from Philadelphia, I agreed to go on one condition: if we ever got married and had children, they would have to go to Camp Kweebec, the overnight camp in Pennsylvania that I attended as a child. My husband thought it was a ridiculous demand, but I was dead serious. You see, overnight camp on the east coast is no joke. You go for eight weeks – that’s right, eight weeks – and your life is never the same afterwards. But on the west coast, camps like that don’t exist. Kids go for a week or two weeks max, and it’s just regular old camp, except you sleep over, usually in fancy, air-conditioned bunks. There’s no color war. There’s no all-camp sing competition. There are no street hockey courts. There’s no writing Risa wuz here on the wall. Most of them don’t even have a lake. Really when you think about it, they shouldn’t even be allowed to call themselves overnight camps.
Overnight camp for me was by far one of the best, if not the best, experiences of my life. Nearly every “first” in my life happened at camp. I smoked my first cigarette, shaved my legs for the first time, had my first kiss, drank my first shot, sang my first (and last) solo in a musical. At camp, I learned to be independent and self-sufficient, to fight my own battles, to share personal space, to take showers in front of ten other girls, to fit a whole summer’s worth of stuff into one, three-shelf cubby. I learned what I was good at and what I wasn’t, I learned to love Fleetwood Mac, I learned to eat what was put in front of me, and I learned that putting someone’s hand in warm water while they’re sleeping will only sometimes cause them to pee in their bed. I made great friends, but I also figured out how to live with people I couldn’t really stand. I also learned that if you push your hand hard against the back end of a tampon, the cotton inside will shoot clear across the room.
And now, after all these years of trash-talking west coast “overnight camps,” it’s come time for me to put my money where my mouth is. My daughter, who is almost eight, wants to go to overnight camp this summer. At first, I bluffed. I was all, okay, you can go to overnight camp. Eight weeks away, no problem! Let’s sign you up. But on the inside, I was dying a slow and painful death. The truth is, I can’t even imagine her being away from me for that long. Maybe when she’s twelve and she’s PMSing and she finds my mere presence to be a total embarrassment, sure – sayonara baby – but not now, when she’s still sweet and goofy and she still likes to hang out with me. I mean, I hate it when she even sleeps over at a friend’s house for one night, so how am I supposed to handle eight whole weeks? Stupid, before-kids me who thought I knew everything. What was I thinking?
It turns out, however, that she doesn’t want to go to my camp. At least, not yet. No, she was talking about going to a fake California camp with air-conditioned bunks and no color-war, that lets you go for two weeks at a time. Well. Let me just say that I will deny writing this until the day that I die, but secretly, I could not be more relieved. Because while even two weeks sounds like an eternity – two entire weeks without her laugh, without her face, without her crazy outfits and her silly jokes – it’s a whole lot better than the entire summer. And as much as I’m going to miss her, I know that even at fake sleepaway camp with a pasta bar and private bathrooms, she’s still going to have the time of her life, and I would never, ever, want for her to miss out on this experience. And besides, at least this camp has a lake.