Last week, Beangirl went to camp with her class. The Spouse dropped her off at school on Monday morning, then she climbed on the big bus with the rest of the kids and headed out of town.
For four nights, our home was a little quieter, a little less sparky. We spent a lot of time wondering what she was up to. I missed her.We’d been apart for that length of time before but only because I’d been away at conferences or on other jaunts and the Spouse had kept things chugging along very happily without me. This time, I was at home and waiting.
All week, the teachers made a point of taking plenty of photos and posted them on twitter, giving us a sneak peek on their week away. We saw kids on trampolines and up climbing walls. Quadbikes and mudhikes and walks by the sea. Our Beangirl looked so completely happy. Which helped enormously. I’m not sure how my own mother managed.
My own camping experience started the day after I turned nine. My mum drove me to the church parking lot and we waited for the big yellow school bus to arrive. My brother must have been four and must have been there, but I don’t remember him. I remember my hat. My duffel bag. My backpack. My church friend who was already there when we pulled in, her yellow hair perfect and wavy in the sunshine. She did not have a hat but that didn’t matter. For an important handful of years, we sat beside each other in the junior choir every Sunday and on that camp bus every summer. Together, we learned about being away from home – how hard it is to fall asleep in a strange place, how wonderful it is to wake up in the middle of a forest. We learned that words written on the bathroom wall can hurt worse than falling over on a gravel road and so can laughing with the wrong boy. We learned a little about boys. And we learned that what you hear in the dark might be wolves or it might be loons. It seems you might need a friend to help sort that last one through.
There’s a photo of the two of us sitting on the ground underneath a tall white pine tree, the fallen needles around us looking soft and red. I must have handed my camera – the one with the flash bulbs and the brown leatherette case – to one of the counsellors because the composition is fairly good. You can see the tree trunk behind us, with its rough bark, and then our happy faces grinning in the middle like we’re ready for anything. We’re both wearing bandanas over our hair and looking dusty. We’d been sanding something – canoe paddles, I suspect – and feeling hot and very happy and nothing remotely like the well-pressed choir kids we’d be again come September. That photo is probably sitting in my parents’ basement in a box along with all the other bits and scraps kids collect to help them remember. It’s funny to think about our little faces shut away safely when the very point of getting to camp was to get outside and feel that glorious outside-and-away feeling. Every summer, my mum drove me to that parking lot and let me get on that bus. Home was happy, but camp felt like heaven.
I hope that’s what Beangirl felt last week. Her smile seems to indicate as much and I think I know how that smile feels. I know I wore a similar smile on Friday when she finally came off the bus. Similar but not the same.
Now at the beginning of a new week, it’s beginning to really feel like October in our neighbourhood. The wind blows rain clouds across the city and the sky darkens with sudden rain. Plum hasn’t been asking to go to the park quite so often today and Blue found his scarf to wear to school. In about ten minutes, I’ll be heading back out into the changing weather to pick them all up from school. It is sunny right now and if that holds, I’ll cut through the park to see how October is settling in there. This morning, it struck me that there is something very brave about the trees in the park these days. They stand rooted in whatever wind, whatever weather and every October, they let go of each of their beautiful, beautiful leaves.