Today I dropped my kids off for the first day of camp. Out loud I said, “Have a nice day. Listen to your counselors. Take care of each other. Eat lunch.”
But on the inside I was screaming "FIRST DAY OF CAMP!! FIRST DAY OF CAMP!! WOOHOO! WOOHOO!! AHHHHHHHHH!"
And after the most hectic hour ever - sticking name labels on every darn thing (bathing suit bottom, rash guard, towel, water bottle, sunscreen, camp clothing, goggles, repeat, repeat, repeat), and digging out immunization forms (Me: “Is it 2016 right now or 2017? Or 2015?” Them: “MOM!!”), shoving the only nutritious food they’ll have all day into their mouths, tightly braiding hair, spraying bug spray, putting band-aids on oozing summer sores so as not to appear a negligent mom- after all that, I walked them to camp.
“Here are their forms!” I screamed. “No allergies!”
I kissed tops of sweaty blonde heads as they disappeared into a crowd of other wandering children, and then I walked away from that place so fast, my Oofos flip-flops left skid marks on the pavement. I may have even held my hand out in front of me and mimed dropping the mic as I crossed in front of the line of other parents eagerly dropping their kids off.
Sweet blessed freedom, baby. One week of camp, the closest thing to vacation I’ll see all summer.
As I walked home, I breathed the air deeply and reveled in the sound of silence. I swung my arms, unencumbered by sweaty seven-year-old hands pulling me backwards. I’ll be honest, I may have even played the Rocky theme song in my head. (Gonna fly now. Flying high now.) I was feeling good. I was feeling summer-camp good.
And as I walked alone I got to thinking about a recent trip to my hometown to visit with my childhood besty. I’d sent a hasty text asking if I could stay at her house for one night because I’d be in town for a family thing. Without even asking the date, she replied yes. She even had a spare bedroom for me.
Which surprised me a little. Whenever I picture my best friend, I picture a visit I had with her about twelve years ago. She was one of the few modern day stay-at-home moms I knew then, in fact, the first one of all my close friends to have kids. And I sat on her backyard patio that visit in the oppressive south Jersey heat watching her three kids run, toddle or crawl around the backyard eating bubbles and falling down the slide, sticking grass in their ears, pushing each other to the ground, pulling on her shirt, her hands, her boobs.
I’m not sure whether it was the mayhem or the heat, but I began to have trouble forming words. “So. Many. Kids,” I mumbled. It was a visit that deeply affected childless me.
But this visit? She had time, loads of time. And a spare room.
And when I arrived my friend stood in her impeccably clean house, no clutter to be seen anywhere, and welcomed me in for a civilized sit-down at the kitchen table. There were the muted giggles of a handful of 8th grade girls coming from the basement, but otherwise? Silence. Order. Peace.
We went for a walk. We went out to eat.
And we didn’t need to figure out a babysitter (8th grader) or where I’d sleep (service trip to Nicaragua for the high schooler.) Even the youngest seemed pretty contained. Because while they still relied on her to drive, they were otherwise, self-sufficient humans for the most part, requiring merely the option of a parent, plus the gentle loving guidance (“Sure you can have pizza. Let’s not invite your guy friends though because I’m going out drinking with Aunt Jennie and there won’t be any responsible adults.”) They required very little more from her than that. Pizza. A ride.
The peace and quiet I felt walking down the road towards home without the tugging of children at my arms was sort of like that. Beautiful. Quiet. Appropriate.
A few years ago my mother shared an old Erma Bombeck column with me (which I can’t find anywhere, even with a perfectly quiet house and an hour to look for it.) In it, a young mother asked how she could keep her house clean, how she could possibly manage the chaos brought on by her young children and all their stuff, the bustle of activity, the 5,000 half-finished drawings on the art table and 413 Matchbox cars on the floor (I may be projecting that last bit.)
And Erma Bombeck’s reply?
Something along the lines of this: Someday you will make a bed, and you will walk away and it will stay made. You will straighten a bedroom just so- books in the bookcase, clothes in the drawers- and you will walk out of that room and it will remain clean. You will be able to walk from room to room in your quiet, peaceful home and everything will be exactly the way you want it. And you will miss the chaos so much, it will make your heart ache and your eyes itch. (I may also be projecting that last little bit.)
With all this in mind, I began to walk home more slowly. The soundtrack in my head may have even changed to Janis Joplin’s Me & Bobby McGee (Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.)
So I entered my perfectly quiet house and cleaned up the kitchen and the Matchbox cars, made beds, put books away, sorted the five loads of laundry on my laundry room floor. I even cleaned the art table.
A little bit, I loved the feeling of getting things done, taking control of my home, going to the bathroom without four people staring at me and asking me if they can have yet another snack.
Mostly though, I just longed for their chaotic little bodies, their oozing summer sores, their stiff sun-screened hair, and I thought about how much fun they’re going to have making a mess of that newly clean art table. And I vowed that this time I’m going to appreciate them exactly as they are right now, bathroom stares and all.
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