As a kid, summer camp was an adventure. As a parent, it’s bittersweet
I loved the experience as a kid, and I want my daughter to have that too. But the letting go is tougher than I expected.
I lived without them for 38 years. I had friends. I traveled. I went out, probably more than I should have. I vacationed on the Cape, often diving into the cool, clear waters of Long Pond in Wellfleet after a day of bodysurfing on the ocean waves. I was happy. Yearning for a family, yes, and hearing that biological clock, but I was happy.
And then Clara came along, feisty and opinionated and funny and — I can’t deny it — a bit stressful at times. But full of joy. She loves our house, her school, her cousins, her aunts and uncles, her grandparents. She loves traditions, the cookies we make at Christmas, the green milk on Saint Patrick’s Day, the IMAX movie we see at the aquarium on each birthday, which happens to be New Year’s Eve. If we do it once — say, get ice cream after a swim in the pond — then so must we do it always.
After Clara came Cormac, less complex but just as joyful. He completed us, with his bright smile, goofy dancing, cuddly hugs, and go-along-to-get-along personality. They love each other deeply, except when they don’t.
We still go to the Cape each summer, and Long Pond has become one of our sacred spots . . . where the kids learned how to swim, where they once played in the sand and now more often sit by our side, reading books and sipping drinks in the shade of the pines. Becoming old enough and strong enough to swim to the raft, where they run and jump and dive for hours, was a rite of passage. The walls of our South Boston home are adorned with photos of them in midair, limbs flying, heads flung to the side, jumping off the raft, a gorgeous mosaic of dark pond and green forest and blue sky behind them.
When I was growing up, my parents sent us, all four of us, to overnight camp each summer. For 7½ weeks. My father had run a camp. My parents believed in camp. Though in my adulthood, I came to wonder if they also believed in 7½ weeks of child-free adult living, date nights, and movies. But whatever the reason, it was heaven, the definition of wholesome. No TV, no electronics. Living in wood-frame tents without electricity. Swimming every day, riding, campfires, and games. Field trips, theater productions, arts and crafts. I had awesome counselors who provided a road map for what kind of person I wanted to be. I went for 12 summers, as a camper and then a counselor. I made lifelong friends. I dreamed of my daughter one day going there. I sang my babies to sleep with songs from Alford Lake Camp, and those are still the songs they request each night before bed.
And now my Clara is 9 and she wants to go to camp, for a 3½-week session. She’s been conspiring with her cousin, also the daughter of a devoted ALC alum, for more than a year. But despite my deep love of the place, it’s a tough decision. My husband is not a camp guy. It’s expensive. Life is complex, and we’re not sure we can make it work this summer.
In my more optimistic moments, when I think of how it might work, I think of how much she would love it, how she would grow brown and toned, climbing the hill to meals each day and splashing in the lake with new friends. But when I wake up in the middle of the night, anxious, I think of going to the Cape for the Fourth of July without her. And it seems almost unbearable. To be at Long Pond without her incessantly bugging her father to go to the raft with her, to have an empty seat when we go for the now traditional post-pond ice cream. I realize how much of my joy I derive from my children’s joy, from their experience of our life together.
It reminds me of what my friends often tell me, the ones who didn’t wait as long to have kids, who are now packing them off to college. About how precious this time is, how quickly it flies by, how suddenly it will be just the two of us again, sitting alone by the pond in Wellfleet.
I lived without them for 38 years. And now 3½ weeks seems like an eternity.
Jennifer Peter is a senior deputy managing editor of the Globe. Send comments to email@example.com.