I sat across from a woman on the 2 train the other day whose 60 pound four-year-old was buckled into a harness that was slung across her chest. She produced a small pouch of juice from her Mary Poppins bag and proceeded to hold it up for him so he could drink from the straw without exerting literally any physical effort. Listen, lady – I’m all for being an involved parent, but damn – if your kid looks old enough to register for his PSATs and is physically developed enough to have a wet dream, he’s too old for you to be schlepping him around the city in a forward-facing papoose. And if you don’t even make him hold up his own 8 oz. juice, you’re going to have one shrunken, atrophied little college freshman on your hands (or chest, as the case may be) come college move-in day (in, like, 5 years).
When I was 8 years old, I became obsessed with going to sleepaway camp. I don’t know what the hell was so miserable about being nice, safe and loved at home, but I became insistent on going away to camp as soon as 3rd grade was over.
We looked at a bunch of camps, but finally settled on one all the way up in Maine. The campers, said the place’s promotional video, slept in rustic canvas tents. There were arts and crafts, a scenic lake for us to sail on, and sometimes the whole camp would go blueberry picking together. Since everyone they taped was having THE BEST SUMMER OF HER LIFE, my mother decided that I would go there. For 8 weeks. The month after I turned 9. Regardless of the fact that I’d insisted on being picked up from every sleepover I’d ever been on to date.
And so, that June, we packed up all of the UNIFORMS that we’d had to buy (UNIFORMS!), wrote my name on a shit ton of socks, and got ready for my departure. Of course, around two weeks before I left, it finally kicked in that I was about to be away from my parents and baby sister for mad long and I became inconsolable. I can remember crying so hard that I was silent as the bus pulled away from the kerb that first day and my family waved goodbye to me. Even then, as I sat weeping into my pillow, I knew that nothing good was waiting for me in Maine.
First of all, I was in a different bunk than the friend I’d gone to camp with, so I was totally screwed on the social front. Clearly, nobody wants to befriend the miserable twit who won’t stop running to the bathroom cabin (!!!) to cry hysterically and write nutty letters home, so I was pretty much on my own for 8 whole weeks. Add to this the fact that we weren’t allowed to call home even ONCE, and also the fact that I had a borderline abusive English counselor who would scream at me to clean the tent while I lay on my cot and sobbed, and you’re starting to get an idea for how this summer played out. I have a vivid memory of finding a bright orange slug on one of our many camping trips (oh, the indignity) and bringing it back to campus because it was the best friend I’d made in five weeks. I was not having a good time.
Then Hurricane Bertha hit. Those charming, rustic, canvas tents we slept in? Turns out they shrunk in hurricanes. I guess it got pretty dangerous at one point, because the whole camp had to be ushered into the Theater Cabin, where some moron read us “The Velveteen Rabbit” while we waited for the storm to subside. Here’s a note to anyone who owns a camp: there are literally A MILLION better stories to read a bunch of terrified children than one about a depressive rabbit who almost gets burned in a fire when his sickly owner stops loving/forgets about him. Who thought that was a good idea? Seriously, people. This is what I was dealing with.
I still count the day that I left that godforsaken place as one of the happiest days of my life. I have a vague recollection of wetting my bed for the first – and only – time in my life the night before we left and thinking to myself, “I’m glad that someone is going to have to deal with this,” instead of “ZOMG I just wet the bed and I’m kind of old and this is sort of embarrassing and gross.”
Here’s the message of the story: if you send a child who already has separation anxiety to semi-boot camp when she’s 9, she will still live at home when she is 24.
I brought this home from school when I was four. My mother’s wedding dress is sitting in a Duane Reade bag in the front hall closet, but this got framed. If my child brought this piece of paper home, we would have a psychiatrist appointment booked within a week. Que sera!