My oldest daughter is not much of a joiner. She’s a loner, and she has no angst about it. She usually prefers her own company, as she knows it’ll be a good time. She has an assortment of friends, is invited to middle school parties and is no way a social outcast—yet she has no great urge to pursue connections with kids who don’t fully compel her. However, she’s rarely lonely. She’s the sort of child with whom adults love to converse—about books and historical events. In some ways, she’s a grown-up already, just trapped in a tween’s body.
She’s been this way forever. When she was in kindergarten, she was never more engaged than when discussing the tragic assassinations of good people: Abraham Lincoln, JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr. In third grade, she first suffered the story of Anne Frank, asking me how such a horrifying thing could happen to a little girl like her. In fourth grade, the school librarian made special concessions for her because she took out so many books, and all of them with a focus on the past: the bubonic plague, the Revolutionary War, the Great Depression. In fifth grade, she placed stars next to two items on her wish list for Christmas: a poster of Nelson Mandela and one of Malala Yousafzai (the Nobel Peace Prize-winning girl who stood up to the Taliban), her heroes. I ordered both images and framed them, and they now hang in her bedroom.
Which, of course, all makes me very proud. But there is a flip side to such intellect and curiosity. Just try occupying a kid like mine, who is not so easily entertained by universally beloved kid things. (Although she does enjoy Minecraft, it must be noted.)
School is her very favorite activity, naturally, and she excels at it. But come summertime, filling her days is a challenge. Going to camp is not her idea of warm afternoons well spent. Classes where she can learn something interesting? OK, yes, sure. She’s game for that. But the very notion of doing macramé, or playing basketball with a bunch of strangers, makes her shudder. Discussions of sleepover camps are enough to provoke an anxiety attack. While her younger sister is positively blissed out running around with her gal pals in the sunshine while under the guidance of junior counselors, and far from my care, my oldest daughter’s eyes well with tears at the very suggestion. “Please, Mama, don’t make me,” she pleads in an urgent whisper.
Sometimes I’ve pushed back and done just that. It generally doesn’t work out well when I do. I’ve had to learn to take my cues from her.
This summer, after four weeks of on-campus courses including “History of the Civil War,” “Writers’ Academy” and “Strategic War Games,” where kids reenact Word War II military maneuvers as Allies vs. Axis powers, and in which she was the only female in attendance, she took me aside and said, “After these classes are done, I don’t want any more camp stuff. It’s been great and everything, but now I want a week of you.”
“A week of me?” I asked. “Doing what?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Hanging out. Going to the bookstore. Stopping at the coffee shop. Walking the dogs. Talking.”
I’m a SAHM, and also a freelance editor and writer. Summer is a serious time suck for me, trying to meet deadlines while playing chauffeur to ever-shifting camp schedules and pool runs. I admit, I sort of dread it, as May morphs into June. I dream of more time to myself, honestly, not less. So I initially met this request with some hesitation.
“Won’t you be bored, spending so much time with your old mother?” I hedged.
“Nope,” she answered, absolutely certain she wouldn’t be.
So, after some thought, I chose to change my perspective. Rather than fight harder to juggle it all, I decided for one week I’d let the balancing act go and give my daughter five days of Camp Me. Together we drove her younger sister to her own camp, my eldest sitting in the front passenger seat for the first time as co-pilot, and together we kissed her goodbye, wishing her an excellent day. We then hit a local cafe—me with my latte and she with her lemonade—and discussed the morning’s headlines. Another afternoon, we visited the Apple store, where she held her own during a sophisticated software discussion (that admittedly flew right over my head) with a savvy Genius Bar guy. We took the dogs to the vet, gardened, and wandered through several bookstores, where we both love to lose ourselves in silent reverie. We also went out for lunch, did the laundry together and explored a nearby town. I let her set the agenda, and I followed it like an itinerary.
It was a good week. And she’s good company, my daughter. Moreover, rather than her learning a new skill, I think I did. Sometimes I face these wide-open summer months as something to get through, as opposed to enjoy. I frantically scan summer offerings for kids, sign them up for a zillion activities and pray they’ll be happily occupied. I fight to carve out moments or minutes that belong solely to me, which leads to a compartmentalization of sorts: I’ll be present for you now, children, but please, please leave me alone later on. During our week of Camp Mom, I stopped dictating the schedule and let my older daughter lead. I did what I came to realize I hadn’t done in years—let someone else take charge. And take some true time off, which a mother rarely gets.
Together we puttered, browsed, meandered, shopped, chatted and let the days take us where they might. Our camp didn’t accomplish much; we had no intricate weaving, painted portrait or faux World Cup trophy to present for our time. And maybe that’s the point. My daughter claims it was her favorite week of the summer, or maybe ever. I think it was mine, too.