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)?


You Say “Summer Camp” I Say STFU


Today is Jane’s eighth day at Outward Bound. To answer your questions: no, I don’t know how she is doing. If I called it wouldn’t be a wilderness expedition and no, I’m not worried about bears/drowning/snakes/chupacabras.

About three times a day Alexander looks at me and says, “Jane would love this.” I smile and I say, “I miss her too.”

When I lay in bed at night and I can’t get the pillow quite right I get tense because my Jane is sleeping under a tarp that she had to carry on her backpack and in a sleeping bag with no pillow. I know she’s happy. Camping trips like this were the highlight of my youth so I’m well aware of how much fun she’s having.

I just miss her.

Alexander is mostly enjoying being the only child. He misses having another kid in the house, but this morning he asked me for pretzel M&Ms at 10am and I said yes. He asked me if I was sick. I told him that I was sick and we each had a bag of pretzel M&Ms for brunch. They were delicious and it was strange enough for Alexander that I think he’ll always remember the week his sister was gone and his mother gave him a little bag of poison in the morning.

We had lunch at a ramen house where you sit cross legged on the floor. Shoes are naturally removed and I was good about that but forgot my sunglasses after having put my shoes back on. I promptly stood up and walked across the cushions with my sandal feet while the waitstaff and my brother looked on horrified. Karma bit me in the ass and I walked outside and stepped in chewing gum.

Can we talk about chewing gum? If I was Queen of the World I’d ban two things, chewing gum and scented deodorant. There’s no reason you need to walk around chewing anything all day long. It’s perfectly acceptable to face the world without working your damn jaw. The snapping sound of the middle aged side mouth gum chewer is like nails on a chalkboard, but the hideousness of gaping mouth with bright blue or green gum being swirled around on a filthy tongue is simply unbearable. I’m past the point where I feel I have to be polite. I simply walk away.

As for scented deodorant, really? Can we just agree that whomever created Axe belongs in prison?


Summer Camp Day Three


I’m waiting for Jane to wake up, in fact I may wake her shortly, and we need to pack her for Outward Bound. 

She leaves tomorrow and I think I might just roll over and die. It’s like someone is sitting on my chest as I click to do the web check in for her flight. Her flight. Alone, without us. Without even her brother.

I’m much more worried about her flight than I am about the canoeing or the rock climbing. Maybe I’m worried about the wrong things, and that worries me.

I went to sleep last night without tucking in my son and didn’t sleep soundly, tomorrow night we’ll go to sleep without talking to either child or tucking them in.

If summer camp convinces them that they no longer need tucking in someone’s going to get hurt and it’s not going to be me.

Wandering Around the House Bumping into Ghosts


Yesterday we dropped Alexander off at camp. I’ve dropped him off at camp every morning this summer, but yesterday I dropped him off at sleep away camp.

Two weeks ago when my friends asked me how I felt about it I snickered and said, “He’ll have the time of his life.” A week ago I gave the same response. Three days ago at ten o’clock at night I asked my husband if we weren’t making the worst mistake of our lives.

Dropping him off was uneventful, we filled out forms, they checked the boys for headlice, bruises, and made them do a few jumping jacks. Some moms tied their boy’s shoes and I used every ounce of restraint I had to not push the hair out of my son’s eyes.

I looked at every man at the camp and sized up his propensity to be a child molester. Two worried me. I am insane.

So now, 24 hours later I’m walking around the house looking at the sky and wondering what my son is doing right now. I turn to Jane about a thousand times an hour and ask her, “What do you think Alexander is doing right now?” She puts her hand on my shoulder and says, “Mom, he’s having the time of his life.”