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.

I Worried About All the Wrong Things


Yesterday I left my house at 10am and drove the Mexican Border to retrieve my daughter from a week at surf camp. Her camp was nestled between an Air Force base and the Tijuana River Estuarine. It’s not the sort of place you find accidentally, you’ve got to have a plan to get there.

Traffic was magnificent from 10 to 11 so at at 11.30 I stopped in the OC and had sushi with Ciaran and felt good about the world. Then I had this hideous panicked moment where I realized I could possibly be late to pick my daughter up and I all but ran out of the restaurant in order to get back on the road.

I’d taken Mr G’s car because it’s been crazy hot and his seats are air conditioned. I should have taken my car because my seats are soft. After an hour or so more my bottom hurt like crazy and I found myself wishing for more fat on my ass… surely this is the only time in my life this wish will be made.

I arrived at Camp Surf just a minute after 2pm and the kids were in the water surfing. SURFING my little girl was out there paddling away on a long board. As much as I don’t want to live by the beach now, the beach was my childhood, and this Manhattan Beach kid almost peed her pants when when that little furshintkener started walking up the board to hang ten.

The hideous drive was absolutely worth it. My kid was walking across her board.

jane walking the board. I missed the best moments... of course.

And then she came out of the water and was pointing to her foot, and of course her friends all gathered round. She left in search of vinegar and I realized she’d been stung by a jellyfish. I’d spent my childhood being stung by jellyfish too, but we did the smart thing, we peed on our stings. We didn’t have to go roaming around a beach in search of a squirt bottle of vinegar. A little piss did the trick.

After Jane had been sprayed with vinegar she finally came to me so I could hug and kiss her. She coughed and sniffled everywhere. “That sounds awful.” I said, “Have you been like this all week?”

She nodded at me, and her counselor said that she’d been coughing all night long for the week. Jane went on to tell me that she’d spent one night in the infirmary and that she was bummed to have missed the morning surf session that day.

Then we went to the farewell barbecue and I got a sampling of camp food. There are no words. My poor sweet daughter.

When I’d brought Jane to camp I’d deposited $30 into an account for her to use at the camp store. They were allowed to buy a soda and a candy bar each day as well as tees, sweatshirts and some surf styled jewelry. At check out parents and their kids head to the store to get any change that might be left at the store. Jane told me she’d spent it all on candy and bracelets.

I worried that my daughter had been buying bracelets to buy friends.

We hopped in the car and started the long drive back to Los Angeles. Jane told me about her new friends at camp and a few of the brattier girls. She explained to me that they used grapes to demonstrate family trees and that Karen’s was the most complicated as she had four mothers and a father who wasn’t the sperm donor (hint: three divorces and mostly marriages to women with one man thrown in for luck). Jane coughed and sputtered a few times, she begged me to listen to Hits1, we listened to two songs and she fell asleep.

Our trip back to Los Angeles was full of serendipity and we passed by LAX just as Mr. G’s plane was landing. I nudged Jane to wake her up, pulled into a mostly deserted airport and watched as my daughter flew across the room to launch herself at her father while screaming, “DADDY”.

She hacked and coughed and Mr G gave her all the sympathy and hugs a little girl needs.

We drove home and she gave Mr G the same rundown she’d given me. At this point I’d spent seven hours driving and another 15 minutes as a passenger. To say I was feeling punchy was quite the understatement. When Jane told her Dad that she spent all her money on candy bars and bracelets I added, “for her friends” and Jane looked at me and said, “No mom, I bought them for you and Dad and Alexander.” I felt like the worst mother in the world.

We got home, unpacked and she ate basically everything in sight. My parents arrived a few minutes later with Alexander who lost his reign as an only child.

We’re back to being a family. Three of us are having a nice and restful Saturday, one of us is very very sick upstairs and watching TV all day.