Sunday, August 18, 2013

It's Not Worth Much But It's Pure

Summer camps are a must for our family: with two full-time working parents, the boys are in camps from almost day one of summer through day zed, with a couple days off for vacations. Every week is something new: rocks and minerals, basketball, creepy crawlers, zoo, soccer, superhero gymnastics, and, one of the boys’ favorite camps, traditional outdoor summer camp nestled in the farms and vineyards of the Willamette Valley.

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.

We make it home by 4:30 pm every day and the boys are filthy and exhausted. Dinner is eaten by 5:30 and they’re normally in bed by 7:00, with two hours of daylight still left. They’re still tired when they wake up but manage to leave the car happily supplied with fishing nets, lunch bags, sunscreen, and swimming trunks. Wash, rinse, repeat all week.

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.”

For the rest of the summer, Thursday night has been the highlight of Hesperos’ week. All families are welcome to attend Family Night, registered or not. As soon as we park in the dirt lot, Helios jumps out to find a frog or a kayak or hike a trail or hunt for blackberries. Hesperos’ first thought is “where is Chai?” When he finds her and embraces her in one of his incomparably loving hugs, he lights up like sunshine – and so does Chai. The affection is mutual. This Thursday was the summer’s last Family Night. As Helios takes us on another hike to a zip line and explains the ghost story of the deer that died one night in the lake, Hesperos whispers to me, my hand held by his soft one. “Mommy, I’m really worried.”

“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.”


“Yes, baby.”

“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?”

“What, baby?”

“It’s going to say, ‘Dear Chai. I made this card for you of camp so you’d remember me. I really had a lot of fun with you. I bought you this bottle of gold from my favorite museum. It was only five dollars. It’s not worth much but it’s pure. Love, Hesperos.’ Is that okay, Mommy?”

“I think it’s beautiful, baby. She’ll love it.”

He smiled. “I think so, too.”

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