The air in the main lodge smells familiar—smoke, wet wood, ashes, lake sand (part rotting plants, part glacial melt), sweat, and sun. Two huge fireplaces flank the long tables and benches, roaring behind metal grates because June in Idaho is still spring and we're all chilled from the ferry ride across the lake. A large chalkboard fills the wall on one end to its roof peak, lined with permanent white grid lines.
If I close my eyes, I can see my name in a white-framed square in a list of pre-teen names with our chore assignments listed neatly in the next row. I went to summer camp for two weeks every summer. I loved canoeing, archery, and ropes. I hated swimming and going to the bathroom at night. I'm still terrified of those awful mosquitoes—the ones that look like massive flying daddy-long-legs and frequent the corners of scary camp bathrooms the world over.
We take a tour. My excited campers tromp up the muddy path made slick by hundreds of little feet. A steady cold rain falls and I wrap the blanket more securely around the baby in my arms. Our perky guide teaches Saige and Garrett the Bluebird song.
“We have a song for everything,” she chirps. She points out the open A-frames where my two bluebirds will sleep, letting them run amok and jump on the thin mattresses lined against the walls on their rusty frames.
Quinn will be in the youngest group—the Sailors. They are the only campers with a real cabin. Four actual walls and a bathroom inside. He crosses his arms in frustration and disappointment. “Sailors can't do anything fun,” he whines. “No awrchery. No tewnt cabins.”
“Next year,” I soothe out loud, but in my head I tell him he's lucky to be coming at all. I can't believe I agreed to send him with his sister and brother.
“Do you have any questions,” our guide asks, and my children are ready.
Where do we eat? Do we roast marshmallows? Can we have seconds? Of everything? Can we stay up all night?
My questions are different. How do you supervise them at night? What's your water safety plan? What if there's a medical emergency?
I bite my tongue. I already know the answers or we wouldn't be here for the final tour before the camp opens. My memories from summer camp are all about freedom. Whispering until midnight from the top bunk. Hiding behind the canoe shed instead of swimming. Watching our teenage counselors kiss at the campfire. I don't remember wondering even once how they kept 100 kids safe while swimming or whether anyone brushed their teeth after smores.
Being the responsible adult can take the magic out of almost anything, if you let it. Did my mother worry like this before I left? Did she question? Did she wonder? If she did, I never sensed it, and neither will my two bluebirds and my (oh my gosh, so very little) sailor.
“It's going to be so much fun, Mom!”
“Did you see our bunks? Did you hear we help serve the meals? There's a game cupboard! We go on a scavenger hunt!”
The ferry pulls away from the dock and the camp counselors “sing us out,” a camp tradition.
“You don't get on the ferry when we come for camp! We get to ride it by ourselves!”
Uh huh. With a bunch of teenagers. And no life jackets.
“Amazing,” I tell them. I know it will be.