Our mail has been coming late the last couple of days, and amidst the chaos of a spirited game of Rainbow Tag, Claire and I sorted a full tub of your letters into the mailboxes by the dining hall. As I was sorting (which I have to concentrate really hard to do), I felt my mind start to wander. Don’t worry, I didn’t put any M’s with the W’s. First, I thought…I’m really a slacker. Mail is a camp treat, and especially letters. A couple of girls from the “high achievers” even received 4 or 5 letters! I thought, I need to write Brooks a real letter. And then I stumbled across a letter to Gardner, his mom, and I recognized her handwriting. I guessed that she had pre-addressed some envelopes. As I continued to sort, I held that one tight, and as soon as Gardner rounded the corner, answering a thousand questions as a posse of Rainbow taggers followed her like the Pied Piper, I slipped the letter in her hand.
She tore it open eagerly and her face fell…”oh buddy,” she sighed…
So let me back up. Brooks is eight and he is a camper. This is his second (maybe third) year to attend camp, and he attends two, one at the start of the summer and one toward the end, and this doesn’t include all the sports camps and Illahee. The boy never met a stranger. He gets it from his other grandfather who is a restauranteur.
The first letter was a classic, and will be tucked away for some later time in life…”come pick me up. I can’t sleep”… oh yeah, and a pretty good stick figure of a crying boy. Tearjerker. Toward the end of my sort, I found another, It was written, like the first, the first day of camp. I found Gardner this time, because there were 3 little smiley faces on the front of the letter, and I thought, “maybe good news”? It wasn’t a “J.K., I’m having a blast,” but it was softer than the first,” It simply said, “can you send me a picture of you and me”? (She already had).
I think that the letter caught us off guard a bit, because homesickness is something we are pros at helping with other kids, but it hasn’t hit close to home in a while…a long while. Turner, who works with us at Illahee now and who is Gardner’s younger brother, was homesick for a hot minute when he attended Camp High Rocks years ago. Laurie says that she occasionally got homesick when she was a camper and even through her college years at Rhodes.
Here’s what I know: It’s hard to get a letter like that. Our instinct is to pave the way for our children and smooth the bumps and bruises, and try to help choose the easier path. That can manifest itself in all sorts of ways, some healthy and some not. I know for a fact that the challenges that I have faced successfully…or not so successfully…have helped me grow the most. It’s sometimes painful, but in hindsight, I would not trade any of those experiences.
Thirty plus years of doing something can lead to some keen insight…I have noticed that successfully navigating homesickness often shapes the most ardent camp girls, and I assume boys…into kids who love camp the most. Second, our mail is slow and getting slower. When a letter is written on opening day, it is often “old news” by the time it gets to us. We are always available by email or phone if you get a letter like Gardner got today to give you a “live update”! We get it, and are always here to partner in the growth of your girls!
Today was beautiful and toastier than we are used to in the mountains. I always say, “it’s hotter where you are,” and that our saving grace during hot spells is that it always cools down at night…which it has. The swim lake was a popular spot today, and I took some pictures of girls trying out the new rope on the Tarzan swing. Claire and Michael replaced it the other day. I think we have it dialed in. The last one was probably ten years old, and this one has a big “monkey’s fist” knot at the bottom to make it easier for new swingers to get their feet placed. We have the quintessential rope swing…better than anything I have seen anywhere else. The tree is beautiful and the arc perfect.
There were trips out of camp. A hike with llama caddies with our friend Mark English…a waterfall hike, and a tubing trip on the French Broad, with a finish at our very own Hannah Ford Farm. It was a good day to be in the water. Rainbow Tag was our evening program with a 5 minute delay from a passing rain shower. The other great thing about the “Heavenly” is that whenever it gets too hot, we can count on a shower to cool things off. Rainbow Tag is a camp wide game of hide and seek with a tag element. Campers search for counselors with color “swipes” that each girl tries to collect on her forearm. There are seven or eight. While I was sorting mail, A “Greenie Meanie” (also a counselor dressed in green and armed with a sponge) tagged an older camper with all the colors…she was a stone’s throw from the finish line and all her colors got “wiped.” It was a spirited and fun evening, capped off by an ice cream treat at the end.
I hear Taps blowing. I’m going to sign off and go write Brooks a real letter…