Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Family Camp

Dinning hall: center of camp, location of endless hot chocolate
OK, so I have approximately a million things to tell you. But first, first I have to tell you about camp!

The last week of August, also the first week of school in DC, Nick, the kids, and I spent the week at Family Camp at Winona Camps in Maine.

Yes, I know, nobody hears "camp" and thinks "Lisa!" I know this.

I wasn't raised by campers. In 4th grade, I was surely the worst Girl Scout in Cairo. Betty earned all my badges. In high school my dad said my idea of camping was staying at the Hilton. I was insulted, but if I thought about it, I generally preferred the Sheraton.

But listen. Camp was incredible. I want all my friends to join us next year. Really and truly.

Now, you know that when I like something, I get very enthusiastic. But I am also candid, which is a thing people appreciate, so I will start by telling you that sleeping in a tent is no underwear dance party.
Tent 12 ready for action!
We did it for a week, and I didn't get one solid night of sleep.

Every night there was something.

In the beginning, the kids were too excited to sleep, despite being exhausted. Instead, they sang a drinking song they'd learned at a friend's memorial service. "Some are here and some have fallen! Bottoms up! The whiskey is calling!"


Another night I felt a tiny bump on my leg. Which was surely a Lyme-infested tick. A tick! Nature is full of dangers large and small!

I could leave it till morning, but the longer you leave it, the more likely you are to get sick. I could pull it out, but then I'd have to keep it, just in case. Where would I put it?

So with one finger on the bump, I felt around for my flashlight. If it was a tick, I'd wake Nick. Together we could remove it and find a plastic bag to keep it in.

It was a scab.

The next night there was a big storm and lots of wind, and Jordan woke up and whispered, "There's a bat on the floor!"

Nick said it was just the tent flap rustling. "Don't worry about it."

Don't. Worry. About. It?

Silently I was all, a bat? Is not a bird! It's a mammal! A bat can have the RABIES! Bats can bite you in your sleep and you don't even know it. Now we're all going to go home dead.

Nick refused to check what he insisted was a non-bat tent flap.

I didn't want to get Jordan worried about his potential impending death, so I stoically fretted in silence, willing myself to breathe. It was like this: Breathe, Lisa. It's a tent flap, that's all. WHAT IF IT'S A RABIES? Breathe, that's right, keep breathing. BUT RABIES! Breathe...

Until Jordan screamed. "DADDY! Daddy! A chipmunk just walked on me!"

So we found our flashlights and calmed him down and pulled his bed into the middle and tied down the tent flaps and then! No more animals in the night.

For example.

Nick was shocked, shocked! that I loved camp. He was delighted and relieved. But astounded at my flexibility. Apparently he was prepared for me to hate it and hole up with a book.

Instead, look at all the campery things I did! All the people I made friends with! All the fun I was having!

In all candor, his surprise has caused me to examine who I think I am, and contrast it with how others see me. Is who I think I am the person I used to be? I don't know.

When I was 24, I trekked for a month in Nepal. We slept in tea houses, sometimes with our sleeping bags side by side on wood platforms. Mice scurried overhead. For a week at highest altitude, it was so cold that the only thing I removed at night were my boots. I slept in my hat.

I wound up going last minute, with new friends and no preparation. I borrowed warm clothes and rented a sleeping bag and bought boots, which fell apart in week two, and which we fixed with duct tape for the rest of the trip.

I was the least fit, and I was always last, every single day. But I got off the bus where the road ended, trekked two weeks in and two weeks out, and at the end of the month got back on that bus.

Aside from sustaining a marriage and raising kids, the Everest trek is the hardest, best thing I've ever done.

And I still think of myself as that person. But the truth is, it's been a long, long time.

So who am I now? I don't entirely know.

It's true that I was worried about being cold, and what to wear, and which shoes to bring, and I voiced anxiety about lack of electricity and whether or not to bring my hair dryer. But that's more because I like to bathe at night and hate sleeping with wet hair.

I solved this issue by barely bathing. We were in the lake every day. Now I know.


Last year, when Nick said he wanted to go to Family Camp, the camp he went to as a kid, and where he was a counselor, and where in his wildest dreams he would live forever, I said, "Sure!"

I never went to camp growing up. I went to my grandmother's house in North Dakota.

When Nick first told me about Winona, which was not long after we met, I thought it was weird that grown men longed to be back at camp, and returned at any opportunity.

And then, four years ago, we flew up for the memorial service of Winona's former camp owner and director, Uncle Al. People flew in from across the world to honor him. The stories told by former Winona campers, boys grown into men whose lives he'd touched and changed, were incredibly moving.

We spent the weekend with Nick's Winona friends. I felt their connection to each other and to the place.

I decided camp was to Nick what my high school was to me.

Since we moved regularly, people to me were more the place than the place, if that makes any sense. When I'm with my Delhi friends, I'm my sparkliest self, and that self is wrapped up in all the memories and delights of who we were as teenagers, with beauty all around us and giant possibilities ahead of us. We laugh and reminisce and revel in the joy of being together.

I don't know if this is how it feels for Nick, and I cannot picture him voicing it in this way, but this is what I imagine.

If it feels anything like that, of course he longs for camp.

So we went to Family Camp. Nick waited all year for it, counting down the days.

When I tell you we loved our week at camp, I mean, even with the tent shenanigans, it was incredible. I, least outdoorsy of us all, adored it. We've already paid for next year.

For starters, Winona is on the banks of Moose Pond, which is spectacularly beautiful. You're outside, surrounded by tall pines. The air is clean. The water is cold and fresh.
Sunset and serenity
The sky is so clear and dark at night, and you can lie on the dock and see all the stars.

I think I took the same photos over and over. Every day. Because it was always that beautiful. And I kept saying, "It's just so beautiful!"

And people just nodded. Because it is true, over and over.
Three times a day, you go to the dining hall for meals. You line up and serve yourself. My children lined up and served themselves. Without my help. Without complaining about what was or wasn't for dinner.

Then, because they'd been running around doing all kinds of activities, they sat down and ate. They were hungry, they got food, they got more food if they needed it, and they ate without whining.

Just like Robin Hood
Jordan did archery! He shot a rifle! (I shot a rifle!) He tried the climbing wall. Me, I love to climb, and never do. So I climbed. I decided my goal was to get to the top of the overhang by the end of the week.

I watched kids dance up the wall. Get to the overhang and pull themselves up. For me, the overhang was a big struggle. I tried and I tried.

And on Friday, our last day, I did it. The counselor belaying me kept the rope super taught, and I know he boosted me on the overhang.
This is me! On the overhang!
But still. I did it. I reached the top. I felt proud.

One afternoon, we all took turns jumping off Eagle Rock. The kids were scared. They hesitated. But eventually, they leapt. And they were so proud.
And one morning there was an across-the-lake swim. They do this every year. It is eight-tenths of a mile. Nick is a great swimmer. I was going to go in a boat and watch.

And then I thought, when do I ever have the chance to do this? I should try. Because it scares me, because it's something outside my normal life, I should try.
You swim from there to here.
When I said this, Nick said I must. There were boats accompanying us, that would pick up anyone who needed help. One new friend took a life jacket for me in her kayak, in case.

I'm not a great swimmer, and the only stroke I know is breaststroke. I only have a bikini, not a serious swim suit. But I'm strong, and very stubborn.

(I don't know if you have certain things you believe about yourself, but I go through life believing that I can always run six miles if I have to.)

So, I was scared (fear of sharks in open water, also on fear list), I was slow, and I was last, save the two good swimmers who chose to stay behind, to make sure everyone was OK.

But I finished. And I felt proud.

At the start of the week, my kids were upset, because they didn't know where anything was. I didn't know where anything was. I wandered in the woods for 20 minutes trying to find riflery because Nick impatiently said, "Just walk up the hill."

This is why we get into screaming, profane fights when we try to help each other park the car.

There are lots of things up the hill. Including many paths and many trees.

I could hear the gunshots. But I could not, could not find this one specific up-the-hill spot. My phone was charging in the dining hall. The Winona map depicts lots of brown squares and open green spaces doesn't label any of them.

It's like a Nick map: here are buildings and here is a lot of nature and there is a hill that you go up. That way is North.

But! By mid-week we all knew mostly where things were. And the kids had made friends. They'd gained confidence.

Jordan started going to activities by himself. He signed himself up, and took himself to where he needed to be.

We live in DC. We lock our doors as soon as we walk into the house. There is never a time where we open the front door, let the kids out, and say, "See you later!"

At Winona, they were free to roam, and we knew they were safe. They ran around with their new friends. They hung out with their cousins. At one point, we hadn't seen India for an hour. We knew she wouldn't go in the water by herself, so we weren't worried.

Nick went to check the tent, and there she was, calmly hanging out, looking at her book. She said she couldn't find us, so she went back to the tent.

Now I think I get it, and I love camp.
My heart
Part of camp is about making new friends and having fun, which we all definitely did. It's about being outside and getting comfortable in the woods and in water, which is a big shift for people like us who are mostly inside.

But now I see that it is also about making you step outside of your comfort zone, and helping you conquer new things, because in the  process you begin to feel more capable, clever, and strong.

You're scared, and you leap, and you immediately want to do it again, because it was so much fun. And then you want to try the next, harder thing.

You forget you were afraid in the first place.

I don't know about Nick, because it was all familiar for him, but the rest of us grew tremendously.

I'm so excited for us to go back next summer.


  1. And now I want to go to camp. Fantastic post, Lisa. I'm glad y'all had a wonderful time!

    1. Thank you, Miranda! I wish you would go to Winona next year when we do. :) Then we can meet and hang out and have a terrific time together.

  2. Kudos for being scared and doing it anyway! I never went to camp and now I want to go!

    1. Thank you! If I want to do something and am scared, then I know I really really should do it.

  3. Gosh I loved reading this! I used to dream going to camp as a young girl. I would look at all the camps advertised in the back of my mothers magazines and dream of all of it, especially the horse camps. But, I never got to go. Both my kids got to go to camp and they loved every minute of it. Family camp sounds amazing.

    1. Thank you, Lynn! I had one good friend who went to camp, but I really didn't understand what it was about. I wish so much that I'd gone when I was a kid. And I'm thankful I get to go now, and can give this gift to my kids!

  4. Now you've given me the itch!!! And welcome back! Its so great seeing you and your loved ones hale and hearty. How is your mom?

    1. Hi AR! I'm sorry I missed this comment. We are well, thanks, and so is Betty. She's going to do more testing with a specialist, but in general she's feeling better. Thank you!

    2. Oh its all right. Glad to know she is fine.

  5. That's great!! So glad you had a fun time. I went to camp about 30 minutes from there for 2 summers. It was so much fun and left a big impression on me.

    1. Hey Tyler! That is awesome! I really wish I'd gone to camp growing up. What an amazing experience.


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