Camper Gone Missing



“How’re you doing? Don’t you just miss her so much?”

This was the third such phone call I’d gotten in the first 24 hours since my nine year-old left for her first week at camp.

“Yeah, I miss her a lot. It feels weird without her.” But I was faking it. The truth was that I didn’t really miss her at all. Since she’d been gone, things had been really quiet. And uninterrupted. With my husband traveling, it was just me and my younger daughter, Caroline.

And Caroline still loves me. She still sits in my lap and rubs my back. She still holds my hand when she’s worried and gives me bear-hugs at bedtime. Even when naughty, she’s still under my thumb. If I count aloud to five, she stops doing what she wants to do and does what I want her to. She’s such great company.

But Elizabeth is so much harder. It’s true what they say about them growing up so fast. At nine, she thinks I’m a dork, picks out her own clothes, sulks, whines and seems to hate me most of the time.

When we dropped her off at camp, I felt so self-satisfied. I’m such a good mom. I’d labeled her underwear, packed her sunscreen in a Ziploc, and scooted her off to a camp right out of a Hollywood movie: birch trees, a shimmering lake and musty wooden cabins. She was thrilled. I was too.

Then I got home and realized how easy it seemed without her. Maybe it’s because she’s too much like me. She feels things deeply, she’s not good at being alone, and she expects a lot from the people around her. She even looks like me. When I look at her blue eyes — clouded with disappointment, I feel I’m looking into my own.

By Wednesday, I started to feel guilty for not missing her. “I have a secret, promise you won’t get mad.” I told my husband. “I don’t really miss Elizabeth.”

He was surprised. So was I. How could I not miss my own daughter?

Maybe it was because I hadn’t slept well all week. I was preoccupied, I guess, and I’d kept busy.

Caroline and I went to the pool. We browsed the isles at Target. We went out for dinner. “This isn’t a date, Mommy” she told me over a plate of Pad Thai. “There’d have to be a boy and a girl for this to be a date.” We went out for ice cream. “Mommy, you’re my best friend” she said. We had a lot of fun, just her and me.

Suddenly the week was up. We drove to camp to pick up Elizabeth. I think I miss her now, I told myself. But why did I feel so detached?

We pulled up to the camp and parked the car. The campgrounds were as pretty as I remembered, but I wasn’t that interested in looking around. I felt a magnet pulling me so strongly to her cabin that I could hardly breathe. I broke into a half-run. When we got closer, I saw this tall blond dart out from her cabin and run towards us.

That’s when I almost collapsed. I burst into tears. She was tall and graceful. How had I forgotten that? I pulled her close and moved her dirty hair out of eyes. She brushed my hand away, grabbed her sister and ran down the road. It wasn’t until later when out of nowhere, she lunged at me and hugged me hard that I knew.  

Maybe she fights me because she’s been attached to me for so long. On some level, she knows the time is coming when she needs to start pulling away. Maybe I do, too.

I realized at that very moment that while Caroline fills my heart, Elizabeth moves my soul.

Man, how I’d missed her.


5 thoughts on “Camper Gone Missing

  1. I had a very similar experience this year when my 15 year old daughter went to camp. I didn’t miss her either and I felt so guilty, but same as you, when I saw her, I was so glad she was home. She just exhausts me so much of the time, I just needed a break! I’m glad to know someone else felt like this.

    Indeed, the emotional trickiness of being a mom is best understood by other moms. My best mothering advice comes from my friends whose kids are just a few years ahead of mine. They clue me in as to what’s coming. It helps, doesn’t it?

  2. You are a very gifted story-teller.

    I know what you mean about seeing yourself in your daughter’s eyes. My daughter is a mini-me to the core…looks, personality, everything. Sometimes this is good, and other times…not so much.

    Thank you!
    And I’ve seen your pictures on your blog — the little imp will be a very thankful mini-you one day.

  3. How great of you to have a week off, but to be extra happy upon her return. Separations are good this way. Great story.

    Thank you!!

  4. Awwwww, what a beautiful way to describe the emotional turmoil that is being a mother. My oldest son sounds much the same way as yours. I too find myself enjoying the quiet and peace when he is out with his friends or at day camp, but he so tugs at my heart when not there.

    Motherhood…it’s one complex mother of a job isn’t it? Glad to know I’m not alone in this!

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