Every summer, I fail to anticipate how much time I’ll be spending with my kids. Spending time with my kids is always extremely nice, until it’s extremely not. So, thank goodness for camps. Because in 2015, they have camps for every interest. Math camp, theater camp, basketball camp, cartooning camp, tennis camp, Minecraft camp, cooking camp.
I don’t want to be presumptuous, but they may even offer camps that teach camping.
Unfortunately, whenever I sign my kids up for camp, they act as if I’ve signed them up to gather roadside garbage.
“Listen, guys,” I tell them. “You have it easy. When I was a kid, I went to barnyard camp in the summer. It lasted ALL DAY and went on for what seemed like ten or twelve weeks.”
“Barnyard camp?” they shout. “That sounds cool!”
“Oh, sure,” I say. “If you like shoveling mule poop.”
Their eyes brighten. “YES!” they shout. “YES YES! Where is THAT camp and can we go tomorrow?”
I leave out the part about the leather-tooling hut, where the counselors made out on a bench while we stamped skulls into wallets. Or the part about feeding corncob after corncob to the donkey, like logs to a wood chipper, until the donkey collapsed. Or the part about the fifteen-year-old girl who hung out pantless in the changing room and talked about her parents’ divorce like her giant bush was in no way distracting. “ARE YOU LOOKING AT MY COOCH?” she once yelled at me. “HUH? HUH?”
I was only six at the time, but I remember stammering "no" and being rather impressed that she'd brought her own sofa.
These are details I don’t tell the boys. But I do tell them about the earth ball.
“At barnyard camp, there was a giant green-and-blue ball,” I say. “It was huge. It was like seven feet tall and looked just like the earth, like a giant globe. It was meant for pushing around by teams to build teamwork, but one day, one the of the big guy counselors let a little air out of the ball, so that it ended up being shaped a little bit like a bean bag instead of a planet.” I pause. “Can you guess what happened next?” The boys shake their heads. “Something verrrrrry dangerous,” I say. “They started getting kids to sit on the deflated part, while some older counselor would run and jump onto the back side of the globe. Then, whichever kid was sitting in the dent of the earth would get bounced into the air. It was sort of like a catapult.”
“Whoaaaa,” the boys say.
“Well, the counselors were having a great time with this, so they decided to make it really outrageous. They went and got the biggest male counselor they could find. It was this giant guy. I think they called him Huge Phil. And then, after they had located Huge Phil, they started looking around for the smallest camper. Do you know who that camper was?” The boys shrug. “Me. Your mother. I was in Kindergarten and weighed about the same as a wet bath towel. They were very excited to find me. They picked me up and poked me into the earth ball the same way you'd poke a raisin into a loaf of bread and before you could say 'MY FATHER KNOWS LAWYERS!' Huge Phil disappeared into the distance. He just started walking and walking, way off into the woods. Do you know where Huge Phil was going?” The boys shrug again. “To get a running start.”
It is at this point in the conversation when I realize which of my sons loves me the most. Mark is smiling very big. He's on the verge of applause. George, however, looks like he’s about to faint, even though this event clearly did not kill me. “Mom,” he croaks. “What happened?”
“Well, when Huge Phil hit that earth ball after his quarter-mile sprint, I shot into the sky like a grain of rice flicked from the top of the Alps. The game was no longer in the category of trampoline, kids. It was now a medieval device.” The kids are speechless. “Do you know what I saw from my altitude besides the curvature of the earth? I saw all the farm animals of barnyard camp,” I say. “THEY WERE THE SIZE OF CHOCOLATE SPRINKLES.”
“WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?” they shout.
“Well, I could hear the counselors down below. They were saying very bad words very loudly. They started all running around like frantic chickens, trying to anticipate where I was going to land. They knew they needed to try and catch me. But this was 1978. The odds were very terrible because they were very blazed."
“What does that mean?” George asks.
“Very bad at catching things,” I say. “And sure enough, after my ten-minute free-fall, I ended up landing flat on my wrist.”
“Did it break?” Mark asks. “Did you get a cast?”
“No,” I say. “The amazing thing was that I somehow didn’t break my wrist. It just ended up hurting for about eleven years.”
The boys sit motionless and stare at the wall. “NOW!” I say, gleefully. “Who’s ready for camp?"
They put on their shoes and pick up their lunch boxes in silence. “We are,” they whisper.