Yesterday my husband and I took our nine-year-old daughter to summer camp at Mosey Wood. This will be her fourth residential camping experience, as she so confidently told us as we old people fought to recall in the car. She spent two years at Stone Wood unit, the first was for half-week camp (fairies in the forest, was it?) and last year was full week (Baker’s Bunch). Plus there was winter camp between the two, a very soggy experience that led to a moldy cough for several weeks after.
We have the packing down pat. It doesn’t hurt that I am a master of arranging the suitcase. I’ve also learned a few things from more experienced campers. The most brilliant helpful hint is to pack each individual outfit in gallon size Ziploc baggies. That way child can simply grab a bag and wear its contents, plus whatever remains unworn stays clean. I packed her dining supplies in her small backpack, which I placed in a larger backpack with her bedding and toiletries.
So she left with three pieces of “luggage”: One carryone suitcase, one backpack and one sleeping bag with bedroll. We loaded the car and headed to Target for the one item we forgot, bug repellent. Normally bugs don’t touch her, but in the woods… Well, those bugs are vicious. She attempted a ruse of hunger at Target café by claiming she was hungry when she just had lunch. I bought a picnic pack. They have grapes, apples, dried cranberries, cheese, almonds, crackers and a piece of dark Ghirardelli chocolate.
Now, when we left Target, my husband claimed to know only the back way to camp. Since Google Maps confirmed the distance as equal to the main highway, we took route 115. I had to hold my breath for most of the journey because it’s a “race weekend” at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, which is a few miles from the camp. Somehow we not only avoided race traffic, but we arrived at the race track when they didn’t have any of the detours in effect. They often make 115 one way to accommodate race traffic.
Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania run Camp Moseywood, and it’s the same camp that I attended for weekend troop camping. I never went to week-long resident camp, but I have strong memories about the place nonetheless. My girlfriends and even acquaintances have similar feelings.
We wound our way down the narrow road that led into the camp. It’s nestled amid state parks, a ski resort and a golf course. The first checkpoint resembled a wooden bus shelter. From it, a young woman with a clipboard and a smile emerged. She requested my daughter’s name, checked her list and announced that child would spend the week in Deer Wood.
Next stop was the parking lot outside the main pavilion.
We took child over to the first stop, the feet and head check. While daughter’s extremities are examined, I went to the medical table (and no allergy meds this year! No ear tubes to restrict swimming! Woo hoo!). Husband brought our pile of letters to the mail crates labeled the days of the week.
Every year when child returns from her head and feet check, I make the same wisecrack. “Do you have feet? And a head?” And every year she fails to get the joke. This year, her father came from the mail station after I made my comment and he repeated the humor. He still got a funny look. You’d think by now she’d be prepared for it.
Next stop: trading post money and unit photo. Every year the tears well in my eyes and I choke on the lump in my throat. Camper Release form. Bear protocol agreement. Every year I laugh at my own ridiculousness. Behavior pledge. My daughter grabbed a chocolate chip cookie from the snack station.
“Mommy, it’s still warm!”
“Let me try a bite,” I requested.
She held the cookie out to my lips and I nibbled it. She was right. It was warm.
My husband also found the cookies. When he took a third one, I yelled at him.
“Those aren’t for you!”
I was over my almost emotional outburst.
Finally, luggage tags. You have to tie colored scraps of paper to your items. They toss them in the back of a pick-up truck and drive from unit to unit. Campers walk, but luckily baggage is delivered to the unit house. Though sometimes, watching stubborn little girls drag suitcases from the unit house to the tents, over rocks and tree roots and other assorted forest obstacles, generates a hearty amount of frustration for all involved.
Deer Wood lies fairly far from the lake and dining hall. To get there, one has to travel a tunnel-like path where the trees have grown over to create the feeling of a burrow. The burrow is large enough to accommodate the height of an adult, but barely. Various tunnels lead to various places, but we followed the signs to Bunny Hollow, crossed a rickety footbridge past that unit and reached Deer Wood. The unit house at Deer Wood had that typical rustic cabin feel, spooky and almost deserted before the adventures of the week fill it with a dozen-plus pre-teen girls. There was a stone fireplace on the exterior of the building and a saw horse rotting to the side.
My daughter immediately grabbed a thick rotting stick and started smashing it against the saw horse, explaining that she had fairy tools to make. Many fairy houses needed constructing. Two other sets of parents and two British camp counselors sat at the picnic tables. One child in a brightly polka dotted sweatshirt was an experienced camper like my daughter. The other, waiting with her younger sister, father and her mother who I can’t understand because she mumbles, was new to camping and to this place and shifted her weight nervously from leg to leg.
I almost yelled at my daughter to stop needlessly smashing wood pieces when the nervous little girl joined her and also started smashing wood. Obviously, this was important work and I needed to keep my grown-up mouth shut. The truck arrived. My daughter ran forward to grab her sleeping bag and her backpack, an oversized green sac covered with patches from a previous Girl Scout. I could see that her suitcase remained on the truck and would be one of the last items unloaded. This made my daughter fret. Nothing like excitement to get a nine-year-old to act like an aggravated hornet.
She dragged her suitcase halfway across the unit, flipping it several times. My husband asked me where I had gotten the suitcase. You see, camp destroyed child’s previous suitcase. It came home so broken we had to use a knife to open it. She received a new one for Christmas, but there was no way I was letting her pack a brand new suitcase for this torture. The suitcase she had came from my husband’s grandmother who’s dying of cancer. She’s too week to leave her bedroom, so she won’t be needing a suitcase for her next trip.
My daughter finally relented and let us take the baggage to the tent. Tent seven. Child swore she knew which tent it was. First we stop at nine, then eight. Finally, we arrived at seven. We made her bed, with bed roll AND thick sleeping bag since August has started unseasonably cool. We reviewed the basics: sweatshirt under your pillow in case you get cold at night, spare flashlight batteries are here, empty backpacks for the day’s activities are here, this side of your suitcase has shorts, and this side of your suitcase has long pants.
Most importantly: Put your dirty socks and underwear in one of your empty Ziploc bags. Anything filthy and stinky, put in a different Ziploc before throwing into the laundry bag. It’s camp, so if it’s only a little dirty you may need to wear it again. You have three pairs of pants. If it’s cold, you may need to re-wear.
We meandered to the latrine and to the unit house. On the walk there, child revealed that she didn’t know if she was ready to stay here over night.
“Spare me the drama,” I told her. “You know how this works.”
We arrived at the unit house and I tell her that her father and I are leaving. She responded with a pout.
“Who’s going to walk me back to my tent?”
“Not us,” I told her. “The path is right here to go back and I’m going back.”
“But I have to have a partner,” she protested.
“I’ll go with you,” the experienced little camper said. I hadn’t even noticed she was there. She happens to be my daughter’s tent-mate. When we left the tent, I swore she was lying on her cot reading The Sisters Grimm.
They left. Seriously. No goodbye. No hug. Just gone.
“HEY!” I yelled. “See ya Friday?”
My daughter ran back to me and wrapped her arms around my waist and pressed her head against my belly.