Here are some helpful reminders, for next summer.
What kind of jackass would miss the flight taking his daughter to her first sleepaway camp?
In my defense, when we got to the gate, it wasn’t a gate at all, just a place to wait for a shuttle bus to take us to the real gate. And the shuttle bus driver wasn’t in a big hurry.
Plus, I stopped for a cappuccino.
A nearby camp solves many problems. For instance, if you miss the flight, and if the next flight is full, and if the following flight won’t get your child to camp till 10 p.m., then you will not be forced to make a TEN-HOUR DRIVE, with a stop in Reno, Nevada, to collect luggage (which of course did make the flight).
You won’t have to drive past Stockton, Lodi, Folsom, Sacramento, and Truckee. You won’t have to drive the length of California’s endless Central Valley.
You won’t try to make the best of it by playing songs like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Lodi or Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues.
“He shot a man in Reno just to watch him die? Dad, why are we listening to this?”
Nor will you make an awkward transition from the lonesome, violent Johnny Cash tune to the haunting tale of starvation, freezing to death, and cannibalism among Donner Party pioneers in 1847.
“Can I please just watch my movie, Dad?”
On our way through Stockton, I came this close to mentioning the guy who sprayed grade-school students with gunfire in 1988, but I had a rare moment of clarity and kept my mouth shut.
Anyway, none of this will happen to YOU, because you will have picked a camp close to home. Lucky you! You won’t wind up with a bad back from driving 10 hours to Susanville, Calif., and 10 hours back the next day.
Nor will you get kicked out of the casino at the Reno airport because, hello? Ten-year-olds aren’t allowed in casinos, sir.
No, no, of course they aren’t. Good rule. We’ll head over to Baggage Claim.
#3 SEND YOUR KID TO CAMP WITH A FRIEND
Do I even need to write this one down?
With a friend waiting for her, it won’t matter that she arrives eight hours late, with darkness falling and all bunks assigned and other campers already knowing each other. None of that will matter because hey, at least your kid knows someone.
A friend at camp reduces homesickness. A friend reduces the chances of receiving a letter like the one below.
Only click on the following link if: a) you have time on your hands; and b) you aren’t traumatized by long, abject expressions of misery. You will note the letter is addressed exclusively to Mom. My daughter may have concluded that Mom was the only one capable of handling the logistics of a rescue operation.
#4 DON’T GO PICK HER UP EARLY
Picking her up early will be your first temptation after reading a 12-page letter in which she says that her heart “feels like it shriveled up and fell out,” and in which she wonders whether injuring herself would be the best way to get home early.
Resist the temptation, because first of all, you’ll probably screw up that trip, too, same way you screwed up the first.
Second, every person I bounced the idea off, including my wife, said it was the exact wrong move. Get her early? Was I insane?
It turns out that the first week of misery is a rite of summer camp passage and is for many kids a prerequisite to subsequent days of carefree joy and freedom. Plus, if you fetch the child early, she may end up feeling like a failure. Better if only Dad feels that way.
An exception is if your childs’ cabin counselor has anger-management problems and kicks your child hard enough to leave a shoe-shaped bruise on his back.
This didn’t happen to my daughter, thank God. But it did happen to my friend David 32 years ago at a camp in Minnesota. David’s father made his own long drive and presented the camp director with two options: “One – you bring the counselor in here, and I kick his fucking ass right now. Two – I take my kid home and you never contact me again.”
The camp director went with Option Two!
Not rushing to pick up my daughter was the one correct decision I made. Eventually she overcame her misery. She made a friend. She played capture-the-flag. She slept under the stars one night. She found a favorite counselor. She went waterskiing. In short, she no longer “cried 14 times a day” or offered to give away “all her money, all her clothes, everything,” if we would just please come get her.
#5 BUY HER TWINKIES
One highlight of the unplanned road trip was that Lulu ate her first Twinkie. We were bored, we were in the vicinity of Kettleman City. She trotted out the old myth about Twinkies not being actual baked products, having a shelf life of 100 years, blah blah blah.
I said first of all, none of that was true; and second, Twinkies are pretty tasty! I couldn’t believe she had never tried one.
We bought Twinkies at a Chevron FoodMart. I believe this was her favorite moment of the entire trip. She certainly mentioned it frequently in letters home. (Why can’t kids keep this stuff to themselves? Why do they throw you under the bus when it’s clearly in their own interest not to? Cue the spouse: You fed her what??)
During this same feel-good moment at the Chevron FoodMart, I breezily offered: “What is it with flights? First your grandparents miss theirs to Europe, then we miss ours to camp.”
Lulu headed me off at the pass.
“Dada and Nana missed their flight because Dada helped a man who was having a heart attack. We missed ours because you wanted a cappuccino.”
Sure, if you want to split hairs.
Lulu comes home tomorrow. I am not in charge of the trip, fortunately. She flies back with other kids from the Los Angeles area.