When I look at my phone, I see my daughter leaving for camp on my home screen. She stands at the bottom of an airport escalator, an orange backpack over her shoulder. She’d cut her long, strawberry blond hair the day before, so the person smiling from under the carrot top doesn’t look familiar. But the image of a kid who just needs a backpack and a ticket is one I recognize. Some parents may have to nudge their children to camp. For the last two summers, our daughter has run out the door. “Yukon ho!” she yelled when leaving this year, an expression she learned from Calvin and Hobbes‘ main character Calvin, whom she now resembles.
I hadn’t been at the National Airport departure gate for her first trip as an Unaccompanied Minor. I was in the stands at my son’s baseball tournament. For pickup my wife and I flipped the load-sharing. She did baseball duty, and I flew to Minnesota, driving almost four hours to a packed-dirt road lined with birch trees that ended at the shores of Lake Pokegama: Camp Mishawaka. Thirty-six years earlier, I had been the 9-year-old flying alone from Washington to this place with a new haircut.
When I was at camp, my parents didn’t know what was happening to me. We weren’t allowed to use the telephone, so even on my birthday I just received word that they’d called to wish me a happy one. All they got on their end was a handful of sentences written in loopy script with scattershot spelling. Technology makes hovering easier now. For the last few weeks, my wife and I ended our days poking around on the camp website, scanning photographs for the flash of red hair among the campers playing capture the flag and canoeing. Now, as I stood on the soft grass at the edge of the compound, I was doing the same scan, watching my daughter fling herself around along with the other campers, passing time before the organizing ring of the dinner bell.