Sunday, August 20, 2006

Busy is not the same as having you here

How do teens know just exactly what to say and do to drive a dagger into a parent’s heart? We took Critter to her last summer camp today. Still tired from her previous one, she dragged her feet to breakfast, was surly before her shower, and finally flat out disobeyed right before we got in the car to leave.

Furious, I got out of the driver’s seat and informed JewelGeek she could take Critter to lunch and camp. Fortunately, a mere 20 minutes later, I had cooled off. During that time, I realized just how quiet the house was without her, how much I missed having her around, and how much I overreacted.

With a quick call on my cell, I discovered that they were only a few blocks away having lunch. So they swung back to pick me up, and we tried again.

This time, Critter talked almost the whole way out there – about her previous camp, her phone call to her Grammy, and a lot of comments about the scenery and farm life. When we got to the camp, she was quiet again, and hung back. That's the closest she EVER gets to letting us know she needs us and wants us around.

Undeterred, we did what all the other parents were doing – stood in line and dealt with the paperwork. The counselors tried to engage Critter in small talk, but she looked at us askance and rolled her eyes, giving one word replies.

Once through the lines, we were free to pick up her gear and head to her cabin. She is in “Junco” – next to Chipmunk and Osprey. The cabins have nice bridges out to them, as they are on stilts over a slight cliff. Bridges connect balconies to each cabin at the back, also perched on the precipice. The cabins are expansive – housing probably 10 girls. Each cabin also has a sink and flush toilet, ample electric lighting, windows with screens, and “cubbies” at each bunk big enough to hold the suitcase and a small library.

Critter quickly sized up the other girls already in the cabin, selected an upper bunk above a heavy-set teen, and stood around looking nervous. We asked her if she wanted us to go, and she whispered, “No.”

So we wandered outside back to the counselor, who was making the name badges each camper would wear. There wasn’t much else to do – except admire the well-appointed camp, and head back to the car. We asked Critter if we could have a hug, and she said “No,” and walked quickly away from us, looking coquettishly over her shoulder. We chased her a ways, listening to her laugh and squeal, then gave up and headed back to the car. I think she watched us go, but I was brave and didn’t turn around.

In the giggling woods, the camp was full of parents and kids – of varying ages – each exploring their part of the camp-world. We even saw little “Hobbit Houses,” made slightly smaller than the other cabins, with grass growing on the roofs, and solar panels and round doors. We think younger campers were housed there.

This particular camp has been in business for decades. The site is well cared for, and certainly modernized. The counselors looked energetic, enthusiastic, and genuinely happy to be there. I’m sure Critter is in good hands.

Still – I wish we hadn’t quarreled in the car at first. I wish I had told her that it was okay, I understood, and I loved her anyway. I wish she had given us a hug – if not to allow us to express how much we loved her, at least to give us something to “hold on to” for the next six days. And as Renaissance Man has told me more than once, all of that probably passed Critter's consciousness for about 30 seconds, and then left, to be filled with whatever teenagers obsess about these days.

We'll stay busy throughout the week, trying to put our house (and even our lives) back together after the remodel. But busy doesn't mean I won't miss her. I miss her already. Being busy is not the same as having her here.