I dropped Parker off at camp today. I wish I had a picture to share, but I left my purse in the car since our hands were full of necessities for the next week. I believe that I handled myself in a textbook “How to drop your kid off at camp” way. We checked in, got the mandatory lice/foot check (I have no idea what they were looking for on the feet), and moved her things to her cabin. After meeting her unit counselor, we headed back outside where there were animals milling around eating grass waiting to be pet. Parker was in heaven and broke out into a run when she saw a tiny pig amongst the bunnies in a pen. She made sure to give equal pets to all – some sort of cow, some tiny goats, a mini horse, a donkey and a llama. With some gentle prodding, she tried to strike up a conversation with a boy who was also interested in the animals, but he wasn’t really interested in talking. Eventually she ran into a girl whom she had met at the early spring meet and greet so I used that as my opportunity to leave. After lots of “you are going to have the best time” comments, I suggested that she and her new friend might like to hang out since I had a long drive home. No tears. No big deal.
I realized as I was driving down the long, long drive to get back to the main road that I was going to cry. I held it together long enough to pass the waving, enthusiastic counselors who were dotted along the way. I certainly didn’t want them to see me cry and think I was some weenie parent who couldn’t handle dropping their kid off. Truthfully, I was okay with dropping her off. She’s been away before, and I have full confidence that she will be safe and have an amazing time. What hit me hard was the reason she was there in the first place. She gets to go to this camp because Dave had cancer. What a shitty qualifier.
I appreciate the opportunity she is being given. I am thankful that she will have the chance to be around others who truly understand. In a letter that she had to write to her counselor before camp started, she answered “I am coming to camp because” with “my dad died of cancer.” There was another question that asked how she felt about hanging out with other kids who know what it is like to deal with cancer, and she responded by talking about a friend whose dad also died who shared some stories with her that helped her but also made her sad.
From the time they are born, as a parent, you want to protect your kids. You cushion the corners of tables and are careful with what they eat and drink. You talk to them about friends and kindness and you try to shield them from any bad in the world. But cancer steps all over those good intentions and they learn more than they should, earlier than they should.
Parker and I had lots of time to bond on the drive down due to the always reliable traffic on I95. We sang along to a favorite soundtrack. We talked about leap seconds (She did. I listened.) We even talked about our plans for Christmas this year. As we closed in on Kings Dominion, she quietly said she has regrets when she thinks of that park. She played hooky from school one day and she and Dave spent the day there. She was afraid to try one of the rides and got teary eyed remembering that she wouldn’t go on it with him. I told her that I didn’t blame her one bit. There was no way I would go on that ride and that her dad absolutely understood that she was afraid. And I reminded her that she more than made up for it when we went to Disney and she rode the Tower of Terror and Rockin’ Rollercoaster many, many times with him. This has been a burden she carried that I hope was relieved a little bit today.
She said she was a little nervous about camp, and I told her about some of my experiences at boarding school. She worried aloud about being around a lot of little kids. I told her that I didn’t think there would be that many but that they would probably really like to be around someone who has experienced what they are going through. We talked about how some kids had parents who were currently fighting cancer and some whose parents or family member had died. This conversation followed –
- Parker – I have 2 out of 3.
- Me – I don’t understand.
- Parker – I had a parent who had cancer and died.
- Me – What’s the third thing?
- Parker – A parent who overcame it.
So, the tears that I shed on and off on I64 and I295 and probably on I95 were thinking about that 2 out of 3. And my kid who is so brave when she shouldn’t have to be. And who has experienced and witnessed more than she should have. And I was sad and angry. I am grateful for the week she is going to have, but I kind of hate it too.