Wednesday, August 11, 2010

RETRO JESSIE: Her Bags Are Packed and She's Ready to Go [1998]

An earlier piece—almost 12 years ago!—about Jessie’s first camp experience.

I have fond memories of my own days at summer camp and bless my parents for sending me. I am especially grateful when my own family climbs into a canoe and I realize that I am the only one who has the faintest idea about how to avoid that rather large rock that is coming up on the right.

Looking back, I realize I learned many things at camp. How to sail, how to ride, how to belt out songs with silly lyrics, and how to giggle hilariously into the wee hours of the morning aided only by a flashlight and a few other willing bunk-mates. All things I wanted our daughter to experience.

Of course my husband, he of the mall-mentality, comes from a different background. The threat of spending a week in a cabin in the woods with other kids his age was viewed as a punishment worse than life without cable. Not that his parents ever actually sent him to camp.

So last summer, when I brought up the idea of sending our eight year old daughter to sleep-over camp, Dan was appalled. I have to admit, I had my own qualms. Our daughter Jessie had never spent many nights away from us, still woke up in the middle of the night, and was convinced that having to wipe her bum was an assault on her burgeoning independence. Add the extra chromosome that distinguishes her as a child with Down syndrome and you can understand that contemplating camp required some extra planning and support.

Somehow (praise Gitchigoomi or who ever the native camp deity is, and I know there must be one) everything fell magically into place. Camp Davern, the Y camp for girls, had an available space in the same session as 3 of her friends. It also had lots of experience including children with special needs and introduced us to Project Rainbow, an organization that could help provide the extra support needed to fully include Jessie in all the camp activities. Now all I had to do was broach the subject with Jessie.

I introduced the idea cautiously, not wanting to frighten her off. “No parents?” she asked. “No,” I said, “but…” “I’ll sleep in a cabin with friends?” she interrupted. “Yes, but..” “YAHOO!!” she yelled as she hugged me. “I want to go to sleep-over camp!” Then she paused and got that determined look. “I want the top bunk.” So much for caution.

As the departure date for Camp Davern approached Jessie got more and more excited while I tried to hide my nervousness. We practiced putting on her bathing-suit by herself, she slept in her sleeping bag, we made lists of what to pack. And then there was that sudden realization that with Jessie gone, Dan and I would be all alone. Childless. Just the two of us. The sad fact was, that since Jessie’s birth, we had never actually been alone together for longer than 12 hours. Here we had 5 full days stretching out into an unimaginable void. While this opened up endless possibilities, one of those possibilities was that we no longer had anything in common other than the newspaper, which we fought over every morning.

Nervous and scared (that’s us, not Jessie) we waved good-bye to the camp bus, watching Jessie’s familiar grin fade into the distance. I drove Dan to work and went home feeling empty. I waited for the phone call. Come pick your daughter up…she pushed a camper down those steep stairs to the waterfront…she fell out of the top bunk…she wandered off into the woods and the search and rescue team is out looking for her.

But the fear and emptiness was only a momentary pang. I sat at the computer and wrote, for 6 straight hours. I didn’t cook dinner. I didn’t do laundry. I went for a walk. I laughed. I told a joke. I slept in in the morning and met Dan for a picnic lunch. We talked about jazz and women authors and the names of trees. We didn’t talk about Disney movies or schedules or speech therapy. We went for long walks at night and we laughed. Together. At the same things.

While I missed Jessie and thought about her constantly, I found each day filled with a growing sense of delight - with myself, with my work, with my life. And by the time camp was over I felt transformed.

Jessie came back tanned and bug-bitten, with a smile on her face. Being a typical eight year old, she avoided our blatant attempts to probe and would only tell us that it was fun. I have no real idea of what Jessie did at camp, or what she learned. But I do know that this year, it’s back to Davern! It’s an experience I would never miss!


Anonymous said...

Truly, a fantastic piece! Thank you for sharing it so honestly. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for posting this! I've been looking for a good overnight girls camp for my daughter!