On Wednesday, we packed the car and headed north. It was only 20 miles or so, but just out of immediate reach. Far enough for it to feel real. We were dropping off our oldest daughter, Agatha (10), at her first ever sleep away camp. Most parents I know would be jumping for joy at the chance to confidently drop their kids somewhere for a few nights. Like a freedom thing. A time to throw parties or at least party hard without feeling like a parent for a few days. Only, we still had a younger girl left after dropping off the elder, and I’ve never felt like I needed to escape my children. I know most people do, and I’m sure it’s very healthy to do it, but we don’t. So this camp was a pretty big deal. Besides, it was a chance for Cozette, our 7-year-old, to have her parents on an exclusive deal.
The day before, I explained to Agatha to be on the lookout for an emotion based in the anxiety of separation. And to be prepared for it and recognize it as just that–an emotion. That we’re going to be back in a few days to pick her up, and that the emotion will pass. She seemed to understand. So we dropped off the girl. Surprisingly, there were no tears.
On the way home, Cozette sighed and announced from the backseat, “I kind of like being the only child. Agatha treated me like a slave.” And then she slept in her sister’s bed for the next three nights.
I thought about Agatha a lot. Not obsessively, but mostly during times I’d grown accustomed to hearing the girls bickering from another part of the house. Now there was no bickering. Kinda nice. But it was a void nonetheless, and a reminder that she wasn’t around.
During these times, my mind raced up north to a sun-soaked soccer field where my little girl was drenched in sweat being put through real soccer drills by real soccer coaches. I think she thought that this camp would be all fun and games, but it was 200 girls from all parts of this region–learning technique and honing skills. Even their movies were about soccer. Sure, they got to party at night in the dorms for an hour before lights-out–that is, if they could muster the energy.
On Friday night, when the ache to see the girl began to pound in my chest, Cozette had a sleepover with a few of her friends. The giggling and screaming that bounced off the walls of our home provided a respite, but I was looking forward to picking up the girl at camp the next morning.
When we arrived, she was on the soccer field with her team. We got to watch her play for about an hour before the camp director held closing ceremonies. She looked tired. And she was drenched in sweat. But she was smiling. During the long walk from the field to the dorm to pick up her stuff, I asked her how it was. She gave me the basic debrief–that she liked it, but that the food wasn’t all that. Then I asked her if she missed us. “I missed you, Daddy.” She said. “And Strider (the puppy).”
Later that day, we went to the pool as a family and laughed a lot. By 9:30 last night, the girl was enjoying the kind of sleep that you only get at home when you’re surrounded by family. I looked down at her and thought how just a few days ago she was taking her first steps, and how she was now on the verge of significant life changes.
And I thought about how important it is to not let a single moment pass. Because, they will.