Today I did something that I consider a major milestone in parenting, though it was a small gesture: I mailed an enrollment form and a deposit for Paige to attend the sleep-away camp in New Hampshire where I went for two months every summer as a child, and where I later worked during my summer breaks in college. One of the current directors was a camper when I was, and many of our peers now send their own kids there as well. From what intel I can gather, they all seem to like it.
It seems like an odd thing to do, since Paige was born in Alaska and has lived in Juneau her entire life. For me, it made sense. I was a city kid and an only child. My parents wanted me to escape New York's oppressive, garbage-tinged humidity, breathe some fresh New England air, and learn to be a little more adventurous, independent, and comfortable with other kids my own age.
Paige already lives in the wilderness. She regularly hikes for miles. She swims like a fish. She's seen a blueberry bush or two in her day. She has a little brother with whom she does regular battle. She stands up for herself and her friends, and is much less sensitive than I was at eight years old. She has her anxieties, but she is tough inside and out.
So why am I doing this? I worry that it's wrong.
I worry that this place, so good to me and for me, for so long, is not the same. I haven't set foot there for 17 years. I worry that it--and the world--has changed too much, and that maybe Paige will feel awkward among east coast kids from suburban Boston and New York, whose life experiences are so different from hers. I know these kids will be steeped in the culture that drove me from the east coast to begin with. A month or two at sleep-away camp is sort of a weird, expensive, "east coast" thing to do. No one here does this or understands why you would. And don't I live on the west coast now?
Why am I doing this? Especially knowing that Paige will miss the only reliably sunny month in Juneau (not to mention her family). She doesn't need New Hampshire. After all, she has Alaska.
But then I think about all of the other things that happened to me in the decade I spent at this particular place. Things that have little to do with geography or the weather. Intangible things that you can't quantify with money or replicate anywhere else, during critical years you can never get back.
I made friends who are still a huge part of my life. I see them almost every time I visit the east coast, where they all still live. Our children play together now. I think about my first serious relationship that began and ended there. I think about falling in love several times and the raw realness of that feeling. I think about learning to dive and overcoming the frustration and pain of doing super hard hikes in the White Mountains. I think about learning to love the outdoors, which brought me to the place I live now. I think about the stories I wrote and listening to my bunk-mates cackle uproariously when I read them aloud at night. I think about the hundreds of things, big and small, that I did on my own there, and I recognize that Paige is already miles ahead of where I was in terms of independence and the inner stamina she needs to thrive during four weeks away from her parents; even among strangers and unfamiliar, not-necessarily-always-wonderful aspects of American culture.
So I guess to me it's worth the leap of faith, especially because Paige seems excited about the prospect of going to her mom's old camp. And when I read this poem Paige wrote, that she showed me last night at Open House at her school, I know she will be fine. It won't be the same, because nothing ever is. But I am pretty sure that whatever happens in those four weeks next summer, most of it will be good.
I Am Paige
I am kind and honest
I wonder how people figured out how to talk
I hear a river speaking
I see a shooting star across a rainbow
I want it to be clear, bright, and sunny
I am kind and honest
I pretend I can fly way up high
I feel the sand between my toes
I touch the smoothiest pebble in the world
I worry when I lose something special
I cry when my brother hurts me
I am kind and honest
I understand that it will be rainy at recess
I say art is fun
I dream I am in a world where kids are adults
I try to read every night
I hope it will snow this winter
I am kind and honest.
Paige this summer at Eagle Beach State Recreation Area, Juneau AK
A poem by Paige
A cubby with my name on it, that apparently still lives in one of the bunks at camp.