Meredith C. Carroll: Summer camp for grown ups
It used to hurt my feelings when my mom told people her favorite eight weeks of the year were when I was away at summer camp. Then my daughters left for summer camp 22 days ago and while I won’t come out and say these past few weeks have been the hands-down, unequivocal best ones of the year if not my whole entire life, that’s only due to the fact that I worry one of them will read this column someday because apparently you have to let them come back. Apparently it’s part of the deal.
This is the first amount of prolonged childlessness that my husband, Rick, and I have ever experienced together because my stepson was in preschool when we were first dating. Our home has always been filled with love — and bodies — and then all of a sudden one of them was finishing up college and the other two went away for the summer and it’s as if Rick and I are kids with keys to the candy store. (A note to my girls reading this in the future: It’s not a literal candy store so please don’t go looking through my stuff looking for keys.)
The first time I went to the supermarket after my daughters left it was as if I’d awoken from a decades-long coma or had been granted compassionate release after a long stretch of hard time. Not only did no one make me shop in the whites-only section (bread/pasta/chips/sugar), I was even allowed in the parts of the store where the stuff is boring and smells bad, like bleach and fish, and no one made a face when both went into my cart.
To be sure, there have been plenty of drawbacks to being temporary empty-nesters. The absence of our 9-year-old has meant no one is here to wake us in the morning to act out their hanger in a series of grunts and foot stomps, or even inform us of the sun’s imminent — or eventual — ascent into the sky. Then there was the time Rick and I went out to eat and no one ordered fries “for the kids” so, as it turns out, we didn’t get to eat fries with our meal. Another time our order came with fries and we ate them because no one could eat them for us. It has been tough to work off all the extra calories on hikes when we don’t have to stop every five minutes because of a 12-year-old melodramatically proclaiming she might either wither or disintegrate if she takes just one more step, but god willing, we’ve managed so far.
The girls haven’t been around to walk the dog, which I say was too bad if they had walked him more than 11 times in the three years that we’ve had him, or he didn’t protest their “walks” that consist of two turns around the driveway, maximum. Since they’ve been gone I’ve deep cleaned and decontaminated their rooms and then visited them every day (the rooms, not the kids) because the countdown has begun until they’re never this clean again (again, I’m talking about rooms; the kids are always never that clean).
Rick and I have gone out for ice cream more times than our children would appreciate us going out for ice cream without them, which they have previously indicated is exactly zero times. We even went to the Hickory House, our younger daughter’s favorite restaurant, for dinner one night. Time will tell if she could smell the sauce or taste the betrayal from over 2,000 miles away.
Rick and I sit outside on our back deck in the cool mountain air every evening and look at the hundreds of photos posted on the camp website of them sweating through the humid, stifling heat that’s the hallmark of the place they told us they’d rather be above all else. I remember thinking my mom must be sad and bored when I was gone at camp. It didn’t occur to me that fun could be happening separately from where I was. I try not to let on about how much fun we’re having in my letters to the girls. That’s why I haven’t written them that much.
Of course I’d be over here curled up on the couch missing my kids if I didn’t know how happy they are, or if I wasn’t just so comfortable curled up on the couch to do much of anything else. It’s OK because I think the girls would be happy to know we’re so happy despite them being away. Well, not really, But now I know from experience they will one day.
More at MeredithCarroll.com and on Twitter @MCCarroll.