I had been marking the date for weeks. Obsessing over it’s closeness and, then, finally, its arrival. The last day of summer camp.
The lasts are striking me more, and simultaneously less, these days. I see them coming up ahead and I lock on them as the day that marks another end. Another small season complete. And the world changes again. School to summer camp. Summer camp to vacation. Vacation to school. It seems so predictable. And so it seems so safe. As if by looking ahead and seeing it coming and calling it out and moving towards it, we should be undoubtedly prepared for it by the time it arrives and ready to ride on through to the other side.
But as I drove away from the carpool line on the morning of the last day of summer camp, it hit me. The sadness that another summer had ended. Another season of weeks spent lathering sun screen and watching college students, making a little extra money during their summer break, unbuckle my swim suit clad kid from her carseat and escort her into camp. It hit me and I cozied up in that feeling of sadness as baby boy and I made our way into our final Friday together, at least for a while. I’m getting pretty good at curling up into endings these days.
It hit her much later. At bedtime, naturally. We joke about how a little one’s bedtime is the time when they remember all of the things that they didn’t do or say throughout the day. She’s called us into her room for the most random story and popped back out for the smallest of ailments. But, of course, I get it. On the verge of sleep is the place where the day comes rushing back over me too.
It hit her. The overwhelming feelings of another ending hit her and the emotion came pouring out over a pair of goggles. Somewhere along the road between the end of school and the end of summer camp we had bought her, and she had lost, a pair of white goggles. And on the night of that last day, she sobbed over them. Though I know she knows we couldn’t, I think somewhere in her heart she hoped against hope that we’d all hop into the car and drive right on back to camp and, somehow, retrieve them.
It wasn’t really the goggles. I know that and I think, somewhere deep inside, she knows it too. But for all of the moments throughout the day when she seems so grown up to me, so mature, so capable of handling so many things, it’s in these moments when she reminds me that she is still so small. She doesn’t have the words to describe her emotions or the wisdom of years to reach out and touch the source of her pain. Honestly, I don’t always either.
A lot of the times, I falter with her and her emotions. Her emotions are strong and powerful and they swell to a breaking point and I get pulled in by the undertow and lost in the sea. I drown in her sorrows sometimes and I can’t always tell if it happens because I am her mother and, pure and simple, her pains are my pains. Or because I struggle with emotion, my own emotion. I can’t always see my way to the other side of my own sadness. So to see all of that and more reflected back at me but owned by someone else, it’s sometimes too much to push through.
But that night, that last night of summer camp, that night I could handle. That night reminded me that I am her mother and I am her mother for a reason. It reminded me that I know her heart. I walked in and found her tears and heard her ask again and again for her goggles and I knew. I knew she wanted to go back and get them because she believed that if she could go back, it wouldn’t be over, and her friends would be there, and it would be just like it should be. I know she wanted to curl up in the moment and stay there, where it was safe and warm and sunny. Where she still sees her favorite counselors every day and all of her friends still show up every morning at the same school and where this phase of her life could continue. I know that she knows now that most of her friends are moving on this year and not returning to join her in kindergarten. I know she knows that this year will be different and next year even more so.
And I know it came rushing over her as she tried to fall asleep.
So I sat with her. I smoothed her hair, wiped the tears from her face, and I stayed. I waited until her breath deepened and calmed and thoughts of goggles gave way to whatever dreams played behind her eyes and I waited until she slept.