Sunday Post 84: Go and Grow

Someone recently told me that they had never left their eight year old child overnight. 

“Not even with his grandparents?” I inquired.

“Nope!”  She shared it as if it were a badge of honor.  It’s no badge.  It’s just weird – unless the grandparents are like kid killers or something.

I finally have all three of my girls back under one roof!  Tonight will be our first night in the same house since Sunday, July 15.  That is a long time. 

As much as I missed them while they were out experiencing the world, and as much as I wanted to go pick Stephanie up on her third week of four-week camp, I am so grateful that my kids had the ability to grow.  It’s no secret that I have limitations as a father.  There are simply things I can’t teach them.  But it’s not just because I’m a man and they’re girls.  Part of it is that I am their parent, and they’ll only listen so much.  Part of it is that I have a singular world view: mine.  And as right as it is, they need to compare it to others so that they can formulate their own ideas about how to live life.

DJ is becoming an accomplished sailor through her time at summer camps – a great confidence builder I think.  She certainly wouldn’t have discovered that talent in a family room with a landlubber.

Stephanie has developed incredible confidence.  I’ve told her for years how wonderful she is – but sometimes it means more coming from a 50-year-old camp director she absolutely adores.

Michelle battled homesickness – and won.  She was given the Most Determined award at camp.  Talk about making lemonade out of lemons.  She was recognized because she struggled and overcame.

I’m not sure she would have struggled or had the opportunity to overcome had she been at home sitting on the couch with me. I think I’m just a good dose of comfort for her.

Some of my happiest memories of childhood are from the weeks I spent in Florence, SC, with my grandparents each summer. I’d pump gas at Papa’s service station.  Granddaddy Tanner would take me for a Slurpee.  I remember making a masking tape and shoe polish covered lamp with grandmamma Ham, and I’d lay on Idee’s bed each morning and talk about life while she “put on her face.”

Oh the stories I heard. Oh the lessons I learned.

I don’t want my kids to be replicas of me.  They can do better.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but better comes from experience and experience happens away from my house. 

So let them go, and let them grow.  And then enjoy the heck out of them when they return.

They’re Back!

DJ and Stephanie at the Camp Awards Banquet

Posted by Danny

The arguing began over the I touch as we drove out of the Camp Seafarer gate.  It was music to my ears!

Today I picked DJ and Stephanie up from Camp.  DJ’s been there for four weeks, Stephanie for two.  Michelle and I have had a lot of one-on-one daddy/daughter time and I think I wasn’t the only one ready for the return of the sibling duo.  She desperately wanted to share what she’d been up to for the past four weeks without them. 

We stopped at Chic-Fil-A for lunch in New Bern. 

Michelle:  “I want a three-piece nugget with fries.”

Stephanie:  “I want the same thing.”

Me:  “Are you sure you guys can eat all of that?  I don’t want to buy it if you aren’t going to eat it.”

In unison:  “Yes dad,” a little annoyed that I asked.

Sixteen minutes later –

Michelle:  “Dad, you can have the rest.”  There were three lone nuggets still in the box.

Stephanie:  “I’m done too.”  Another three staring me in the face.

Usually I’d give them a speech about waste paired with how money doesn’t grow on trees followed by a big I told you so…

Not today!  A fast food tray with half eaten fare could only mean one thing:  THEY’RE BACK!

We have Mt. Kilimanjaro of laundry in the basement.  I’m on load four.  There are many, many more to go.  I may, not sure, finish before it’s time to pack next July.  But you know what?  I’m loving folding each little pair of Target undies and I’m exhilarated by my search for the matching socks!

Last night DJ and I were up until 1 a.m.  I was working diligently to figure out if she’d met “Johnny Sea Gull” at one of the camp dances.  She wouldn’t divulge, but we sure did laugh a lot as I guessed potential names of her imaginary suitors.

Sending all three to resident camp is a big step for me, that was Lisa’s job.  But they grew a ton during their time away – both physically and in maturity. 

Maybe I did too.

The Camp 1 Sardines

Posted by Danny

The last of three sleepover camp drop offs was this weekend. DJ and Stephanie ares now at Camp Seafarer, an incredible camp for girls located on the coast of North Carolina. Twenty-three years ago I spent a summer working at Seafarer’s brother camp, Sea Gull for boys. I was the Head Counselor for the 200 youngest kids that year – the Camp 1 Sardines.  A name I chose myself.

There were actually three other groups of boys at Sea Gull that summer:  The Camp 2 Hornets, The Camp 3 Hurricanes and the Camp 4 Gators.  It’s a large camp with nearly 700 campers at a time.  Camp 1, being the youngest, had something to prove.  I guess it was questionable as to whether we could with a name like the Sardines – but I thought it was interesting and wasn’t one for going with the norm.

I’d say the pinnacle of the summer for me was when all 200 guys in my care earned their first rank in golf.  We were 100% duffers!  And when the entire camp met a goal like that, we were allowed to sing a song in front of everyone in the mess hall.  This was the moment we had waited for all summer long.  We’d spent an inordinate amount of time perfecting our performance – nearly as much time as we’d spent coaxing kids to hit the golf course to earn the rank.  Our “song” and I use that word loosely, went like this:

We are the Sardines and we’ve got the scoop,

if you want to be cool, just go bloop-bloop-bloop.

Now Camp 4 Gators you’re tough that’s true

but if you don’t watch out we’ll make some luggage out of you.

And the Camp 3 Canes comin’ round the bend

you know you blow real hard but you’re just full of wind.

And the Camp 2 Hornets let me tell you one thing

you know you buzz real loud but you ain’t got no sting.

So if you want to hear a thought that’s really profound,

the Camp 1 Sardines are the baddest around.

Camp 1, bloop bloop, Camp 1 – SARDINES!

200 boys, ages 6 – 9 singing that song and blooping all over the mess hall made the work we’d put in all worthwhile.

I don’t remember a ton of other things about camp that summer.  I do know they served fried bologna and cabbage on Tuesdays at lunch, and it was one of the greatest summers of my life!

She’s Home!

Posted by Danny

I picked Michelle up from camp today.  When I arrived, she jumped into my arms – one of my favorite things in life.

She immediately said, “I have my bathing suit on under my clothes.  Our counselors told us to change because our parents were coming but I told them you had a blow up pool in the back of your car.  Just go along with it dad.”

It’s only been five nights, but holding her in my arms again is my favorite huge Father’s Day present.

Last year at camp she cried every breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I asked the counselor how this year went. 

“Did she cry a lot?”

Her young, enthusiastic counselor hesitated, “Well…”

I’m not sure what that means – but I get the impression we’re headed in the right direction.  Apparently she thought Tuesday was Wednesday.  So when she woke up on Wednesday and realized it wasn’t the day before she was going home, she was not a happy camper.  That’s what happens when you’re stranded somewhere without cable and internet access.  Camp is sort of like the movie Castaway.

Mid week I received a letter from her.  She informed me that she was having a GREAT time.  She also said, “I got a lot of letters today.  I must be very popular.”

Thanks to all who wrote.

She was most proud that she went down the zip line.  I don’t see the joy in it.  We go to this same camp every year in a YMCA father/daughter program called Y Princesses.  The goal of most of the dads is to get their child to go down the zip line.  My goal is to ensure that my kid doesn’t want me to go down the zip line with her.  There are three reasons –

1)      I don’t like heights – and after climbing five staircases you stand 60 feet in the air and have to jump off a ledge with a wire the size of Christmas ribbon between you and the ground.

2)      I don’t like cold – and the water, especially in early spring when the Y Princess program heads to camp, is freezing!  A child rides the zip line virtually to the land.  A 175 pound man drops in the middle of the pond and backstrokes a football field before getting his footing.  And the water would shock an Eskimo.

3)      The harness they strap you in to hook you up to the line is really uncomfortable.  It squeezes places that should not be squoozen.

I’m glad she mastered that – without her dad.  Next year on our outing to camp, maybe she’ll want to go down it with her friends.  I think that would be a brave thing for her to do.

She’s happy, she’s safe, she had lots of stories – and as I type she is sleeping right beside me.  All is good.

Moms, how do they do all that?

This is just the beginning...

Posted by Danny

Last Monday morning I nearly went into a panic.  I received four emails from other moms (when I’m in this mode I consider myself one of them) about signing kids up for summer camp.  I’m not sure why all of them emailed on the same morning.  Is there a national Begin to Think About What You’re Doing with Your Kids All Summer day that I had missed?  Do all mom’s just intrinsically know that the third Monday in January is THE kickoff for beginning your summer plans?  Was there a mailing that I missed?  Is it genetic?  I don’t know.  But I entered that date in my outlook calendar with an annual reminder.  Next year I’m going to email them first.

I will say that without these four women and my other “girlfriends” my kids would be sitting in front of the television with their older sister eleven weeks in a row, June to August.  They have saved my tail numerous times over the past 18 months.

Three days before Lisa died, we were sitting in our hospital room at Duke.  I had written her a letter that I later read at her inurnment.  In the letter, I had worked to capture the essence of Lisa and the essence of our relationship.  I wanted to be sure that she understood how much I loved and admired her.

I had mentioned the letter multiple times that day.  I knew she was very sick and although I had not accepted her fate, something inside was preparing me for the worst.  I desperately wanted to share my thoughts with her.  When she woke after a mid day nap, both of us in tears, I hung a handwritten “Do Not Disturb” sign on our door and crawled in the bed with her.  I read the letter – it was difficult to get through. 

She said, “Honey, that was beautiful.  Put it in the bag with the notes I’ve written to the girls.  Now, get out a piece of paper and a pen and come back over here.”

This was it.  Lisa was going to share something incredible with me.  Perhaps she was going to give me insights into what she thought about death.  Maybe she was going to tell me how much I meant to her (later I discovered she had already written that – she left nothing to chance).  Instead, she said, “List the children’s names down the left side of the paper.  Now, get your calendar and list the weeks of the summer across the top of the page.  Let’s go through the girls’ camp schedule – you’ll  be able to use this as a guide for the next few years.”

With significant painkillers in her system and with a body being overtaken by cancer, my wife was not concerned with her fears.  She wasn’t concerned with moving to ICU later that afternoon.  No, she wanted to make sure that DJ, Stephanie and Michelle would be taken care of last summer and that they would be with their friends.  And with me as her husband, she had right to be concerned.

“Week one the girls are going to the lake.  You need to register for dance camp the next two weeks – tryouts are in March but Kirstie has assured me they’ll make it.  You have Bible School for Annie T. the next week and Catherine can help with the carpool – y’all might share a sitter those afternoons.  I have nothing for weeks 8 or 9 for Michelle but call Maura, she’ll find something for you.”  She proceeded to tell me which friends would be with each girl for each week.  The only thing we didn’t cover was the cost – which I later discovered would be the most painful part of the process.

I really don’t understand how women do it.  My wife worked full-time and brought home a decent salary.  She drove our kids all around the world from 3 – 6 pm and often had our plan for dinner at 7.  She never missed a registration.  She never missed a dance recital or signing up for a tryout.  The camera bag was always packed and the battery charged.  She kept snacks and bottles of water in her car in the event there was hunger, a hurricane or a bomb threat.  In May, there were new bathing suits in the upstairs laundry basket; the beach towels were out and cleaned and the sunscreen packed in the pool bag.  And, she looked like a million bucks whenever she climbed out of that minivan.

Lisa was a swan:  beautiful on the top – no one exactly sure what was going on with those paddling feet underneath.  I look like a whale that never learned how to swim.  How’d she do all that?

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