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Sleeping Away

June 29, 2012

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

Whispering nothing

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

Mirroring me


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.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2012 9:34 am

    My heart soars when I see my children being independent, trying new things, working through situations even when those situations are tough. This is how they learn, this is how they grow.

    I was just listening to a group of psychologists talking about how important it is to let kids have adventures without parents around; they said it’s critical to let children do things and then tell their own stories about what happened. Sounds like you will be doing just that very soon. I know it will be special for you both. xo

  2. June 29, 2012 10:25 am

    I think you know how much I relate to this. I was so excited for Grace to go to camp last summer, and it truly never occurred to me to think about how much I’d miss her. We dropped her off, I was awash in nostalgia and sentiment as memories of my OWN time at that same camp swarmed around me. And then I just lost it. I spent the day crying and wondering what the HELL I was thinking. What a stupid move. I missed her like a limb had been lopped off. I’m almost ashamed to admit – well, I AM ashamed to admit – that I was startled by the intensity of my missing her. But you know what? Picking her up was SO sweet. As was watching her move through the world with a new degree of self-assurance … which is still there. I can’t wait to hear about your reunion. xo

  3. June 29, 2012 5:42 pm

    I love birches, too, Denise. Always have, always will – the shadow and light, all the shades of grey (not the book!) and, at this time of year, green, green, green.

    As my daughter gets ready to leave for college, I am feeling the best and worst, too. I’ve never been so happy and so sad, all at once.

    Thanks for the loveliness, as always.


  4. July 31, 2012 12:17 am

    This is such a beautiful post–and hit home for me, as my older daughter (going on 10) is away for nearly three weeks at camp. She went last year and wrote letter after letter asking to be picked up. After months of insisting she’d never go back, she went to a small reunion last winter at my sister’s house with her two cousins, the camp directors, and a handful of other campers. They sang all the songs and got silly and she called me and said, “I changed my mind. I’m going back.” Then drop-off came, last week, and she was teary and reluctant. Now, she is there, and the house is really very quiet without her big energy in every possible mood and flavor, and I wonder how she is, and know that on the day I pick her up, she is going to look a million times more grown-up and beautiful than a few weeks before.


Give me your grit.

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