If you’ve seen Hayley Mills (or her prettier twin sister) in Parent Trap, you have an idea of how the boys spent their week: giant swings, canoes, hikes, learning goofy jokes, skits, and swimming but without the family reunion capers. Truth be told, it’s one of Mommy’s less favorite camps because it’s a guaranteed 40-minute drive each way twice a day during peak hours of the workday. But, the boys look forward to it every year so…what’s a parent to do? Make it work, of course.
By Friday, we’re all exhausted. Thursday night is Family Night at camp and the entire family hangs out until about 9:00 doing what the kids do all week long. We crawl into bed around 11 wondering how the kids manage to do this eight hours a day the rest of the week. Friday dawns early and ruthlessly. At pick-up, we pile our dusty kids into the car and look forward to the weekend when we can wipe down the insides and our city family cars can say goodbye to unpaved roads…at least for a little bit.
Helios shuffled to the car, dragging his drawstring bag behind him and shouting farewells to children and counselors. Hesperos lagged far behind him, bag over his shoulders, dusty from the neck down, and face startlingly clean.
“How was camp today?”
“Good,” offered Helios. “I caught a newt by its tail but it got away and then I found this huge fat bullfrog and then I…” When Helios gets into a story, he is a non-stop run-on sentence. Hesperos and I sat quietly. Eventually, Helios ran out of air.
“And how about you, Buddy? How was camp?”
Hesperos looked out the window, glassy-eyed and oblivious.
“Buddy, are you okay?”
He heaved a shuddering sigh and then the lip trembled. Without another sound or gesture, tears poured forth like his internal cup runneth over.
“Helios, what’s wrong with your brother?”
“He doesn’t want to leave camp.”
“Oh, is that all? Buddy, you’ll be back next year.”
More tears flowed and, soundlessly, his shoulders started to shake.
“He knows, Mommy, but he misses Chai.”
“Chai, his camp leader.”
Hesperos sobbed the truth. “I might come back next year but what if she’s not here?”
“Oh, Buddy, it’s okay. You’ll have other camp leaders you’ll like just as much. Remember Mr. Sunshine last year?”
That straw broke him. The remainder of the 40-minute drive home, this little tow-headed 7-year-old wept his heart dry. While he was distracted now and then by dinner, bath, and toys, there would be moments over the next few hours when he would pause and, without warning, curl into a little ball and cry. At bedtime he offered his prayers: “Please let me see Chai again.”
“Hesperos, stop interrupting!” Helios snaps. “I’m telling a story!”
I lean in closer, hiding our conversation from Helios. “Why are you worried, baby?”
“What if I never see Chai again? I mean, after this summer. What if she doesn’t come back to work here at camp?”
I try to shift focus. “Do you know Chai’s real name?”
“It’s Emily. She’s in college. She lives in Seattle. Emily’s a pretty name, isn’t it, Mommy?”
“Yes, it is. Maybe we can get her address and you can write her after the summer is over. Would you like that?”
He squeezes my hand.
We walk to the main building where the camp counselors are gathering to begin their skit. Helios wanders, checking to see what might’ve changed since last week when he visited. Hesperos holds my hand with eyes for only his friend. When they’re done, he hurtles forward, a pigeon returning to its nest. They hug, and Hesperos is so, so happy.
On the walk back to the car, Helios runs ahead, up hills and down hills, grabbing walking sticks and looking for frogs and newts. Hesperos walks alongside me.
“Mommy, when can I write to Chai?”
“Whenever you want, baby.”
“I’m going to make her a card and it’s going to have a drawing of camp and of Chai and me in the canoes.”
“That would be beautiful. I’ll send it to her for you.”
“Can we go to Seattle sometime and see Chai?”
“You mean a play date? Maybe we can.”
“Mommy, can we go to the rock museum next week?”
“Sure but why do you want to go to the rock museum?”
“They sell gold there in little bottles. If I spend five dollars, I can buy one.”
“Why do you want a bottle of gold?”
“I’m going to send it to Chai with the card and the picture I’m going to make her. Do you know what it’s going to say?”
“I think it’s beautiful, baby. She’ll love it.”
He smiled. “I think so, too.”