As a child, I was slightly obsessed with the Hayley Mills version of The Parent Trap (far superior, in my opinion, to the Lindsay Lohan version, but perhaps I’m biased). I wanted desperately to have a twin sister—preferably one with a ranch in California, but I was not going to be picky about it—and I thought the idea of going away to summer camp the whole summer sounded very exotic and possibly terrifying at the same time. But aside from one ill-fated week at Girl Scout horseback riding camp in the hot, dusty suburbs of Florida that included a cabin-wide ant invasion when I was 10, I never went to sleepaway summer camp and I never got a surprise twin sister either, dammit.
So when my own children reached elementary school age, one of my goals was to send them away to camp, at least for a week or two, somewhere with mountains and waterfalls and pranks and campfire songs, but absolutely no secret twin siblings. The idea of dispensing my babies to a mountaintop without me was daunting, but fortunately, my fiercely independent firstborn argued his way into going before I could (over)think about it too much. Suddenly, I was packing shower shoes and extra towels and writing our last name on a billion socks with a Sharpie, and off he went.
This summer will now be the fifth I am sending my boys to summer camp for two weeks in the mountains of western North Carolina, and I know they are going to love it. But I also know what’s coming, and it won’t be pretty: Parents’ Refresh Button Syndrome, subtype Sleepaway Summer Camp.
If you have ever sent a child to sleepaway summer camp, you don’t need me to explain what Refresh Button Syndrome is. Oh sure, we’re all stoic and brave and even, okay, gleeful and giddy, when we settle our kids into their cabins with their naïve and idealistic young camp counselors. We try not to let the tires squeal when we bust out of the parking lot on two wheels, our heads full of visions of Target trips alone; long, leisurely pedicures; and date nights without babysitters. The world is our child-free oyster, if only for a week or two. What will we do with all our newfound free time?
Here’s what we’ll do: We’ll sit at our laptops and stare at our phones, silently willing the camp powers-that-be to freaking update the pictures already so we can catch a glimpse of our precious babies, that’s what. We’ll hit refresh over and over, certain that the second we took to look up and watch Jimmy Fallon’s monologue will be the instant that the camp photographer finally uploads the day’s harvest of photos.
Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. REFRESH.
And then when those new photos finally appear, lord help us all if our children are not in them. Is that his sleeve in the corner of the 200th picture for the day? I am pretty sure that is the tie-dyed T-shirt I ordered during the last Lands’ End sale because it just looked like something a child at summer camp should wear. Surely, that must be his sleeve. Oh, wait, no. Looks like other moms felt the same way about that Lands’ End tee, because that’s a different kid. Where is my kid?
I’m not proud to admit that I have, maybe once or twice, emailed the camp and asked if my child was actually still on the premises, because he hadn’t appeared in a single photo in two days and I was going out of my mind. My finger ached from the constant refreshing. I imagined him falling off the cliff during the hike, disappearing in the middle of the waterfall plunge, wandering off during the campfire. Where was he?
Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.
He was there. He was there and happily playing Predator/Prey and Capture the Flag, learning how to juggle and how to start a fire and picking vegetables in the camp garden for his dinner. He was jumping under the waterfall and yelling, “Polar Bear, Polar Bear!” to become a member of the Polar Bear Club. In short, he was having the time of his life getting everything I hoped he would out of two weeks of screen-free time in the great outdoors, and he was just very adept at avoiding the camp photographer. Did he not understand that his mother was spending the whole week waiting to see his happy face on her laptop screen? This was all about me, after all. Did I forget to tell him that?!
So in the next few weeks, I will pack up camp duffels for each of my three boys. I will label everything they own and decide which of their clothes I am ready to sacrifice to the mud and the stink of camp. I will take them for physicals and drive them up the rocky dirt road to their camp’s impossibly green fields and familiar wood cabins. I’ll kiss their heads, remind them to please wear sunscreen and change their clothes at least every third day, and beg them to consider wearing deodorant, for the love of all that is good and holy. I’ll confirm they are in good hands.
And then, I will shamelessly bribe them with treasures untold if they will just throw their old mom a bone and jump in front of the freaking camera every day at least once. Just once.
My finger is already twitching, ready to go.
And for the record, I still want to go to summer camp, Hayley Mills-style.