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.

My Name’s Not Mom This Week


We had mono drama which cannot be compared with drama of any other sort. You see Jane went kayaking and sailing at camp on Thursday, hopped into the car at 3pm, declared it a wonderful day and fell promptly asleep. Jane isn’t a kid who naps. This is unusual. When Jane woke up she said she had a sore throat. After dinner she said she had a really sore throat.

Since I was bringing her to camp for two weeks on Sunday I thought it would be prudent to swing by the urgent care. If she tested positive for strep she could be feeling better in 12 hours or less.

Jane tested negative for strep and when I’d mentioned her long nap to the doctor she ran a test for mononucleosis. They did a pinprick and eight minutes later Jane and I overheard the nurse saying to the doctor, “Do you see that line?” It was faint but they thought it was there.

Jane left the office with a diagnosis of mononucleosis and a dark cloud over her head. On Friday morning, before Jane could wake up and hear me, I called surf camp to cancel her reservation. I explained that she was ill (big mistake) and told them I’d fax in a doctor’s note in the next day or so. I brought Alexander to the doctor Friday morning to make sure he didn’t have mono as I didn’t want to send him to his camp on Catalina Island just to be sick.

So after the doctor’s office I brought Alexander to day camp and then I headed home to tend to my sick daughter who was not particularly sick. I had her take a rest day to make sure she was actually okay. Saturday night I called the camp to let them know she was coming and to give them the Amtrak itinerary. No problem! they said. We packed Jane for camp and stuck her on the Surfliner. This summer Jane has flown Delta twice and taken a train, she delighted in both but we all loved the Amtrak employees who were so sweet to her.

After leaving Jane I checked my email and saw a note from the camp letting me know that she could not attend camp unless she had a doctor’s note with her. Alternately I could have one faxed in before her arrival. This is when I lost my shit. Where would I get a doctor to fax a note on a Sunday? Jane was already en route I had two hours and 30 minutes to make this happen.

I’m Jewish, so I picked up my cell phone and started texting the MD’s in the family and then I emailed the kids’ physicians. This is ridiculous on a Sunday morning. At about the same moment that the pediatricians emailed me (each of them did) the camp director emailed to say that the doctor could fax a note during the day Monday, Jane could come to camp if she wasn’t sick.

I relaxed and texted the MDs. It’s a good thing that the email came in quickly because plan B was to just go ahead and forge a note. What were they going to do? Put me in summer camp jail? My only conundrum was in deciding whose name to forge.

Sunday was all about Alexander and I dropped him off at camp this afternoon so I’m kid free for a week. I really miss them but I also need a few minutes to not be Mom. Well, I went into Jane’s room to clean up a little and after seeing this I missed her a little less.