The Gift of Presence

I boarded the Amtrak Surfliner just before 9am to arrive in San Diego just after noon. From the train I could have taken a taxi but to save $40 or so on cab fare I hopped onto a bus that took me most of the way to the camp where Jane had spent the prior two weeks. Rather than taking a second bus and then walking a mile I tried my luck with a taxi and found myself chatting with an African man who spoke like he was singing and told me that he too had a daughter. She would be four in two days. She lived in Africa and he was trying to bring her here.

He might have been lying to me but I tipped him too much anyhow and asked him to please come back to the camp at 3 so that he could drive us back to the Amtrak station. He gave me his phone number and I went to pick my daughter up.

I love kids at camp. There’s a swagger that’s been earned. Jane thrives with independence and giving her tasks that are difficult but ultimately achievable are the greatest gifts she can receive. She was glued to her friend Kate that she’d attended with and I met two more girls that were there for the two weeks.

The girls ran and changed into wetsuits and then I got to watch them surf but only for a few minutes. Jane’s popping up smoothly now and she’s having fun when she’s riding a wave. Last year she was fighting the ocean this year she’s harnessing it’s power. I was standing in the water enjoying watching my daughter when I noticed Kate’s mom had arrived. I went to say hello to her and she was fighting back tears while talking about how perfect her daughter is. I must have looked confused and then Kate’s Mom went on to tell me that she has a friend who is fighting for her life. I have a little experience with that. I hugged her. I didn’t have anything to say because sometimes there really is nothing to say. Some parts of our lives are painful and because we are gifted life and friendship and people to love we will hurt and nothing is capable of taking that hurt away.

Tom Petty was blaring while our girls were surfing. When the girls have struggles in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s maybe Jane and Kate will be on a beach with a summer song providing a score that is testament to their love, triumphs and struggles all at once. Hopefully in everyone’s struggles there will be moments of perfection that penetrate like sunlight fighting through the sides of a drawn curtain. Surely we all have struggles it’s the ability to recognize those sweet slivers of sunlight that gets us through.

At 2.30 I had to get Jane out of the water so we could get everything together and head back to the train station. I walked next to her and listened while she talked. We checked out of camp as she told me about all the other kids. She continued to chatter for half an hour while we careened up the 5 freeway toward the Amtrak. I felt sad for the cab driver who must have been missing his own daughter and I tipped him too much money. The train was 45 minutes late and while we waited to board Jane continued to provide detail. There were kids from Santa Monica, Peru, Panama, Chula Vista, San Diego and Imperial Beach. Some of them were sooooo spoiled and some of them were sooooo smart and the only children weren’t as socially adept in Jane’s eyes. There were kind words for everyone except the two girls who refused to help clean the cabin. She struggled there.

I heard about surfing, kayaking, friendships, volleyball, dancing, whispering, walking and crushes. I heard about food, sunscreen, little kids, counselors, games, school and sand. We spent the train ride back looking at pictures from camp. I just listened. Listening to my kids may be one of my favorite activities. I’m not sure I could recount all the stories but I have a good general sense of how the two weeks were for my daughter.

I could have bought her a train ticket home and the camp would have sent her back on her own. Jane would have liked that too. She loves to travel solo, but then I would have missed the chatter. The chatter is the best part.

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