I glanced at the camp blog tab on my laptop.
I hit this button little button with obsessive regularity, yearning for glimpses of her dynamic smile, her whispy blond halo, her tender eyes.
Refresh, like a pot of not-boiling water, doesn’t deliver when watched too diligently.
Her camp, in Northern Minnesota, posts camp photos each day of the camper’s activities. The first photos revealed a tentative, somewhat home-sick little girl. Her first photos weren’t demonstratively sad. But the absence of her bubbling personality struck the home-sick chords in my mother’s heart.
Is she OK. Is she eating. Is she having fun? Does she sleep well?
When I took her to camp almost two weeks ago, we drove north along the northern Minnesota roads toward the spot where Abby would spend the next two weeks. Her first ever sleep-away camp experience.
Our northward trajectory delivered us from that cloying weather and into a crisp 75 degrees, low humidity and cerulean blue skies. There comes a moment, when driving north in the Midwest, when you hit the birch tree line. There are birch trees throughout the Midwest, but at a certain parallel, the birch trees propagate. The two-lane highway was lined with clusters and families of birch. As Abby and I drove, further and further from what we knew and closer each moment to many unknowns, I was so grateful to see the birch trees.
The birches and I go back way. When I was young, my family would drive from Ohio to northern Michigan. In the 1970s, we didn’t watch movies in the car, or at home for that matter. I sat on the vinyl bench backseat of our Chevy Impala and read books, colored papers and watched the whirring landscape outside my roll-down window. I still remember seeing the birches then; spotting them was a victory. They dotted our path up north. I recall my mother’s observation that their leaves weren’t just green, they were silver. In my mind, I thought of them as the silver trees. Like magic.
Rustling magic on their sliver leaves
Lithe, white trunks traveling to indigo
Silver-tipped leaves flitting and lilting
In the crisp wind
Quietly reassuring everything in their wordless rustle,
Offering a place of reverie
to lay down apprehension
to own trepidation
Light bounds off each heart-shaped leaf
And refracts onto another
Its neighborly pine tree absorbs all of its reflections,
A silver reflection of its surrounds
Lone pieces of peeling bark, paper-like and fragile,
Clinging to their trunk.
A wet-faced child clinging to her mother
A mother walking away to the rhythm of their hearts
To let the wind carry
To let the child
Stark white birch juxtaposed to its royal blue horizon. Its gorgeous, startling contrast forces me to look. And I see the commingling contrasts of Abby’s and my day: joyful, tearful. Excited, afraid. Together, apart.
The morning after I dropped Abby off at camp, I drove alone in the car southward, back toward the airport. Away from my daughter and away from the birch trees. The leaves lift up against the wind and the bark rustles a lonely rift. Before I leave them completely, they whisper to me. I can’t hear the words but rather feel and see them.
During that drive, I spoke with one of my dearest friends. She asked if while I was dropping Abby off if I vacillated between these two polarities:
This is the best decision I’ve ever made
This is the worst decision I’ve ever made
Yes, indeed, I swung on a taut rope between these two thoughts, or, maybe more accurately, experienced them simultaneously.
It was both of those things. I believe that the hardest things are, indeed, sometimes the best. Abby, age almost-nine, was leaving home for the first time and going to sleep-away camp which is, indeed, an amazing opportunity. An amazing, heart-wrenching opportunity. Oh the things she’ll experience, feel and taste. She’ll be living as her, out of the reaching shade of my presence. The best and the worst and the hardest and the most exhilarating simultaneously swirling together and pushing against each other.
I miss her. And I’m ready for her to be home to hear about all of her adventures.