They are getting so big: sleepaway camp?

Oh, y'all, sometimes parenting just blindsides the hell out of me. On Saturday morning, a neighbor sent via our neighborhood listserv information about a sleepaway camp her boys have attended for years. There was to be an information session with the camp director just minutes from us on Sunday.

Although Jack and Ol have friends who have gone to sleepaway camp, they never have nor have we really discussed it. But last summer, I could see that they were in some ways outgrowing (especially Jack) the camps they tend to do here, and so out of curiosity I clicked on the link my neighbor sent.

A camp for boys ages 9-15, founded in 1902, on a wooded isle in Maine. It has no electricity except in the kitchen, and screens brought from home are not allowed. The kids pump their own water and swim and sail and learn woodworking skills in shop and riflery and archery and fly fishing and how to make fires and craft shelter from what you can find in a forest. They sleep in raised tents and every Saturday night is the Saturday Night Show, a production written, cast, rehearsed, costumed that day. There is a library and a fireplace and a pool table. I loved the simplicity of it all. And for my boys and their interests, it sounded ideal.

Yesterday, after a boozy, multi-hour lunch event with David Lebovitz (do you know him? Great cook and baker; American in Paris; y'all his chicken in mustard sauce!) co-hosted by Politics & Prose and Buck's Fishing and Camping in honor of David's newest book, L'appart, Tom napped -because we are old and struggle to day-drink these days (sad)- and I snuggled and laughed with the kids. 

No one wanted to go to the open house, but the kids had seem SO jazzed about the camp offerings on Saturday that I made us all schlep out because really, I'm not going to send my kids to camp without learning as much as possible beforehand. Turns out the hosts were a wonderful family that we know from school. Sigh. You probably see where this is going.

As we sat watching the slideshow and listening to the director (of 27 years who took the camp over from his father who'd taken it over from his father), I kept glancing to Ol on my left and Jack on my right. I wish you could have seen them. Both had their legs crossed at the knees, both were enraptured with the images of this place that we'd only just met. I could see in their sparkly eyes, reflections of tents and canoes and tug-of-war and kids reading in hammocks and bonfires and memories being made. 

My stomach started churning. With excitement and also dread because I knew that this camp would be a tremendous experience for them and that as soon as the lights went up they would both say "I have to go there!" I wanted that for them, didn't I?

The lights went up, they both exclaimed, "I have to go there," and I put on a brave face. This camp offers only one session. It is six weeks long.

We returned home, and as the evening wore on and they chattered excitedly about shop and rifles and camp fires and building rafts, as I tucked them in bed, as Tom and I talked about whether or not we could even really afford this camp this year, I kept feeling my eyes prick with tears.

Jack has just matured SO much this year, and if I'm being very honest, there isn't much in way of baby or toddler left in Ol either. But we have morning snuggle every morning, the three of us, and sometimes Tom too, warm in a cocoon of blankets, laughing about morning breath, me inhaling their cheeks and skin and tousling their hair. And they still hold my hand and although both incense and tire me at times, both also bring such hilarity and joy and fulfillment too. I am not remotely sure that I'm ready to be away from them for six weeks, especially Ol because he is so young. The house would seem so quiet! Yay? Shit?

Both said, "Camp is expensive. Thank you for even considering this. I would LOVE to go. I am dying to go. But I understand if we can't." What thoughtful darlings. We want to give them the world. All parents want to give their kids the world. But it's a lot to consider and so suddenly too. 

And more than the money, and the schlep to get two boys and loaded trunks to Maine and then back, and my missing them for all those weeks, is the fact that such goodbyes are coming anyway, and should. And that is what makes the hot tears pour. 

Jack has less time at home left than he has already spent here. Just six years until college. SIX! They will flash by faster than I ever could have imagined. And then three years more, and it's Ol's turn. And then the six weeks that are vexing me to hell and back now will seem like nothing because at least there was that homecoming to count on.

What if while they are at camp (if we say yes, if we can) they grow out of morning snuggle? Of course morning snuggle should and will end, but what if camp hastens that? I mean, already Jack is using deodorant and for the love of god, I was just not ready for that. Deodorant is for people with hormones, for pete's sakes. And suddenly Jack has them, and I am sorry, but that seems to suggest he is older than I'd been considering.

Do you see what I'm saying? Now I'm crying again. Because my goal has always been to raise thoughtful, kind, generous, conscientious, well-mannered, respectful, stewards-of-Earth-and-its-communities, independent men, but in the jumble of days and busy schedules and fatigue and daily challenges, I sort of forgot about the whole outcome of that goal. The independent living piece. The bit about the launch from my nest. Which camp seems to be an awfully clear example of, albeit a tiny, first-step sort of one.

I think that kids need opportunities to practice independence, to be homesick, to be unsure, to figure it out and to come out stronger. I am certain this camp would offer that. I am certain that for both my boys, it would be a phenomenal experience upon which they can draw strength and confidence and happy memories and, yes, independence. 

If it's possible to send them, the decision to do so should be based on what they want and what would be best for them. But man is it hard to find that that decision may not be easy or comfortable for me (even though it probably would be an excellent opportunity to practice my own independence because clearly I am slightly more obsessed with my sons that I previously knew.)

Platitudes tend to really piss me off, but I will tell you this: "The days are long, but the years are short" is horrifically true. Oh me, oh my. 

A loss and a meal and a niece

It's been pouring brickbats all day. Early on it felt cozy, but, in concert with having fallen back with (the most horrible event foisted on us twice yearly) Daylight Savings and thus being plunged into darkness at approximately 3pm (legit, I offered Oliver dinner at 2:57p today AND felt as if I were doing so late), and some heartbreaking news this afternoon and the looming anniversary of election day 2017, well, it's been a grim evening. 

When I was very young -two years out of college- I moved to New York with a broken heart, big dreams, no money, and a job I'd talked my way into and was not remotely prepared for. You will not be surprised to know that the job didn't last, not least because my boss was an abusive alcoholic who enjoyed hitting on all of the waifish women he'd lured into the company.

Desperate, I reached out to a former University of Chicago colleague who now worked at Columbia. She put me in touch with the admissions director and long story short, I was offered a job. Bliss.

I moved into the lower level of 212 Hamilton Hall and became officemates with Terry. Next door, if I remember correctly, resided Peter.

Peter V. Johnson, a bespectacled man who always wore a suit, bow tie, and proper pocket square. Who laughed at my skim, no-whip gingerbread lattes, who offered me friendship and mentorship and made me fight, in the best and smartest ways, for the applicants I really thought warranted admission.

He'd attended Earlham, was married to a vibrant woman and had a vibrant daughter. He'd been at Columbia for years.

He called me Slim and I called him Peeves (an ellision of P. V. J.). I distinctly remember several colleagues saying, "Not sure he'd let anyone else call him that."


When we moved to temporary quarters because 212 Hamilton began its renovation, Peter and I shared an office. Never, before or since, have I enjoyed sharing office space quite that much. I can still hear Peter's raspy chuckle, can still recall the way we sat in stupor as we watched the Towers fall on 9/11.

Once we'd moved into our shiny new space, no one shared an office, but Peter's corner spot was a primary hangout. How many times did I sit for hours a day, six days a week, arguing for certain applicants, ordering another container of Strokos tuna salad, marking my docket, losing track of time in there?

Those hours are some of my fondest professional memories. And now Peter is gone. And my heart is so sad.

For all of these reasons, none of these reasons, reasons beyond today, I found myself nesting like a fool this evening. Ol was driving me batshit, Jack and his pal were doing just enough homework to stay within the limits of acceptable, and all I could think to do was cook and provide.

What was meant to be the ingredients for at least two days of meals turned into a one-night feast that will, hopefully, sustain us through the weekend. That said, the steak is gone. I am not yet buying enough to sate the appetites of growing boys. But there is a huge pot of soup (ribollita; absent leafy greens per a shopping mistake and freezer overestimation but alas), a vat of potatoes, half a round of the best cornbread ever, and there is love and thought and memory in it all.

 red chili cornbread

red chili cornbread

 flank steak tagliata a'sear

flank steak tagliata a'sear

 steak at rest

steak at rest


Five days ago, on my nephew's 3rd birthday, his little sister was born. A day later, she was named Virginia. She is such a darling beauty, and I can't wait to meet her.

Today, Virginia went blue (go Northam), and I have to think that in the cycle of loss and birth and life and death is, always, love. And hope. I know Peter would have been pleased with the gubernatorial outcomes of today, and I thank little Virginia for any part her happy birth played.

 sweet Virginia, five days old

sweet Virginia, five days old