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.

One Out of Two Kids is Home From Camp and How Much do You Tip a Counselor?


If we’re friends on Facebook you might have seen my status updates. Alexander was gone for a week and Jane is still surfing her summer away and will be home soon. It’s easy having her gone because she’s older and she’s been leaving us longer than he has. Having Alexander gone was like missing a limb, having Jane gone is akin to missing birdsong, you have to be quiet to notice it’s absence.

Mr. G and I went to the Ports of Call to get Alexander from the boat that would bring him back from Catalina and I panicked a little because I didn’t have a gift card for Alexander’s counselor. I happened to have a $50 bill and I figured we’d find that young man, shake his hand and send him off to college with some beer money. When the got off the boat I forgot all about the counselor and delighted in seeing our son. He was happy, dirty and tired. Clearly camp was a success.

On the way to the car we stopped to talk to the camp director and I asked him where the counselors are. He said that they were back on the island. I asked him how I was supposed to give him a tip. I tried to give the director the money to send along to Alexander’s counselor and he said, “We don’t do that here, it’s an East Coast thing.”

I’m a tipper (but then again Mr. G and I have both survived off tips for many years at many jobs) and at the kids’ day camp I’m good for about 75% of one day’s tuition to each of their counselors and any specialists who spend a good bit of time with them. I met a lady who is in her early 20’s and lamented the fact that she would get hundreds of dollars to spend at Starbucks from the camp she worked at. This year I gave Target gift cards, in years past I might have given cash or the dreaded Starbucks card.

My question is do you tip your child’s counselors? If so how much (not really as a dollar amount but maybe as a percentage)?


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.


Jane is Back from Outward Bound


We picked Jane up from the airport last night and she was radiant. Outward Bound is the right program for her. She paddled 80 miles in five days, made new friends and has more bug bites than I ever could have imagined. Jane’s skin was perfect. Those midwestern girls with their humidity may be shiny at times but there’s nothing like skin that hasn’t been hit by the desert sun.

In typical Jane fashion she talked a mile a minute about the other girls. They were from places like New Jersey and Oklahoma and China. I asked what their parents did for a living and two of the girls had nutritionist moms, “You would love them!” She squealed. She lamented the fact that she was the only girl who had to fly in and out of Minnesota. The other girls were staying an extra day to go to the Mall of America which has [insert a squeal here] Brandy Melville. I reminded her that LA has Brandy Melville too and you didn’t have to walk past stored full of kitten tee shirts to get there but she was still unhappy to have missed the experience.

She marveled at Minnesotans. They’re all blonde or redheads and lots of men with beards. She’d never seen so many beards and her eyes grew wide as saucers as she told me, “Everyone says ‘hi’ to you. Like for no reason they wave and say ‘hi’.”

“Why do they do that?” I asked.

“I don’t know. They’re like super friendly like they think they’re going to see me again or something so I just sort of started saying ‘hi’ to people randomly. It was weird.”

Jane paddled a canoe 78 miles in five days and only cried once. Apparently when there are thunderstorms the girls get woken up and have to go somewhere in rain suits and sit on their PFDs while waiting for the storm to pass. After a few nights of this she was tired and wanted to go back to sleep.

I love that she cracked and learned that cracking and breaking are two different things. She’s going to be unbreakable before she leaves this house. I just know it.

The kids both missed each other. This is how I know I’m a success as a parent. I like that they’re strong students. I like that my kids are athletic and I enjoy their moments of altruism. But I know that Mr. G and I have done something wonderful when our kids want to be together.

Jane wanted to know what happened while she was gone. I told that we went to see Spiderman, eat at a million restaurants (I didn’t tell her that we ate out so much because setting a table for three is depressing), bought a dozen pair of shoes, the cat drank my tequila and I paid the vet $220 to put his finger up Junior’s arse. I’m pretty sure the vet doesn’t make enough money.

The kids are in camp today and we’ve got another two weeks before they both blow out of here for more camps.

I Dropped My Daughter off at the Airport and it was like… Nothing


Jane had a 6.30am flight this morning. She’s just arrived in the midwest for a week of rockclimbing, canoeing and camping with Outward Bound. She went last year and to say that it changed her life would be a gross understatement. The combination of sports and mountaineering has given Jane the ability to walk away from massive amounts of peer pressure to keep outside the fray when it comes to girl drama.

So this morning I set my alarm clock for 4.15. I wanted to be up before Jane, have breakfast for her and be out the door by 4.45 so that we could arrive at LAX by 5.30. Don’t get me started on how absolutely bugged I am that I had to pay $200 in unaccompanied minor fees for a child who doesn’t need to be accompanied. Unfortunately I woke up at 3.30 because someone was pushing me off the bed.

I tried to get back to sleep but sleep never came. He looks sweet and innocent but he’s five pounds of bed hogging trouble.

We made it to the airport and wound our way through security lines and frazzled early morning travelers. Jane had a spring in her step and I said to her, “You’re happy when you’re about to get on a plane, aren’t you?”

She smiled wider and nodded her head.

She kissed me goodbye and boarded the plane without looking back. She wants to travel, she wants to see the world and have new experiences and she wants to experience it all with strangers. With new friends.

I thought I’d feel weird leaving the airport without her but it was like nothing. Maybe because it’s the right thing at the right time and Jane’s in the air while I’m on the ground and that’s exactly as we’re meant to be.