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Coffee with Mimi: Granddaughter’s first day at camp is bittersweet

By MIMI BECKER

Contributing columnist

Monday was the first day of camp for our 6- year-old granddaughter. 

We had so looked forward to this week. We picked her up on Sunday at our prearranged exchange point, halfway between her home and ours. We were excited to see she is growing up.  She can buckle herself into the carseat. We had joked we might need a U-Haul to tote all her necessities for the week, but, her possessions were neatly contained in one grown-up, pink, wheeling suitcase.  She is small and you can fit a lot of her size outfits in that one bag and still have room for six books, some stuffed animals and five pair of shoes.

She settled into “her” room, unpacking her clothes into the dresser drawer reserved for her use and arranging her books and stuffed animals close to the side of the bed.  She so wants to be a really big girl and sleep in this bed, but she isn’t there yet and makes it clear she will need to sleep with Grandmama and Granddaddy.

We are secretly happy she isn’t too grown up for this childish stage as we know this time will pass very soon.  The first night proceeded smoothly with the usual rituals of dinner, bath, teeth, story, a cartoon.

Morning came and there was time to kill before camp check-in.  A leisurely breakfast, wardrobe decisions, a quick cartoon, some chores and we were on our way.  We were the first to arrive.  Ordinarily, I would be congratulating myself with the organization of the schedule.  However, the long wait had an unfortunate outcome.  She is a bright little girl and it became increasingly obvious there was not one single person arriving who was familiar to her.

She had been told I would be leaving when camp started but I would be back at the end of the day.  She had accepted this fact in theory.  As the clocked ticked inevitably toward the top of the hour, she more frequently inquired if I would be staying.  There was a growing hint of panic in her voice. 

I cheerfully repeated over and over that she would be meeting so many new friends and Grandmama would be back before she knows it.  I also became a bit panicked.  What if all these days and weeks of waiting had been a build up which was over the top?  We were more than three hours from her parents.  What if she is too young, after all?

She began clinging to me, there were tears welling up in her eyes.  Oh, my gosh.  No other kid was too sad to let go of a parent or grandparent.  In fact, most other campers arrived in the waiting area with no one attached to them.  And, all of them had remembered to bring a water bottle.  Darn, she is going to be different.  Not the good kind, you know, the being unique different.

It’s time, the perky counselors were bounding through the excited campers herding them all through the doors.  My granddaughter held back, glued to my side even more teary eyed.  “Please stay”. 

I simply cannot be the last adult in the hall with a crying camper when every other camper is so happily not in the hall.  I disengaged her and pointed to a spot in a row of like sized girls who seemed perfectly ready for this experience.  I alerted a perky counselor and headed for the exit.  Hiding behind the door, I steeled myself as she glanced over her shoulder looking for anyone familiar.  In fact there was absolutely no one in the room she knew at all. 

You would think I would have conditioned myself to tears.  After all, I have been down this road many, many times before.  I do have three children.  I have sent them to the first day daycare, Kindergarten, camp.  I have put them on planes to Florida, Europe even, all unaccompanied by me.  I should be full of grown-upness.  She is just the next in a line of  my own little people making their way in the world.  I know the drill.

So, go out to the car, get in it and don’t look back.  Until 3:00.

I couldn’t resist sneaking a check at about midday.  Oh, yeah.  She had friends.  They were clearly solving the problems of the world with grand gestures and giggles. 

Day two.  She wanted me to wait with her again, less weepy eyed, but still clingy. They say there are no instances of true forgetfulness.  It may be true.  I did remember her water bottle, but forget her bag which contains her emergency meds.  I zipped home to get it, snuck it back to the shelf, managed to get into the car undetected.  Pulling out of the lot, here comes the group of “littles” in transition.  She couldn’t see me.  But, I could see her loud and clear.  She was completely engaged in some dramatic story, waving her arms and laughing.

Day three.  A quick hug and a kiss and I never even made it into the waiting hall. I wasn’t invited.