When I was going into the sixth grade, I went to my first week-long overnight camp. I’d gone to several camps for a weekend or an overnight, but this was going to be a whole week away from my home…and more importantly, away from my little sister.
The camp was (and still is) nestled in the foot hills of the Ozark Mountains in the eastern part of Oklahoma. The Illinois River borders it, which provides a fun experience with floating and river walking. A beautiful mountain with a carved-out trail borders it on the other side. Despite how much I really do despise mornings, I learned to appreciate the sunrise from a mountain top. I loved my experience—and, believe it or not, I missed my family just a little bit. Even my sister.
I went back year after year and each year was better than the year before.
When my sister was going into the sixth grade, four years later, she reluctantly agreed to go to camp. She’s more of a homebody than I’ve ever been. And while my stories of midnight serenades by the boys and my growing collection of friendship rocks found in the river were appealing to her, she was not convinced, as I was, that it would be the coolest place ever.
Nonetheless, she went.
And every night she called home (Collect—does anyone but a prisoner still do this?). And every night she cried to come home. And every night our mother consoled her and assured her that when she’d return at the end of the week, she will have had the time of her life.
To a certain extent, our mom was right. We picked my sister up on Friday and on the two-hour drive home, she sang all the camp songs and regaled us with stories of cabin cheers. She had a notebook full of addresses from her new friends. She told us all about singing the “Elbows On The Table” song at dinner time and was very proud of the start of her friendship rock collection from the river.
Then we got home.
When she took her bag to her room, she pivoted on her heels and vowed to never leave home again. You see, while my sister was at camp, my mom cleaned her room.
Prior to camp, my sister’s room had no floor. Well, no floor we could see. She had no less than a dozen baby dolls, forty-seven stuffed animals (not counting the ones under her bed), board games (including multiple versions of the game Life), several hundreds of 45-records (at least one of them was my copy of “Morning Train” by Sheena Easton). She had every notebook she’d ever owned or used or touched. She had colors and crayons and markers enough to cover the outside of our modest suburban home. She had at least ten pair of Underoos and mountains—mountains!—of dirty clothes, none of which offered the same sunrise experience she had at camp.
But during that week, my mom cleaned her room out. Mom kept most of her Cabbage Patch dolls, including the original one from Xavier Roberts’ first factory in Macon, Georgia. Mom kept my sister’s favorite stuffed clown (a creepy thing called Michael). Mom washed all the dirty clothes and folded all the clean clothes, then she did something these clothes hadn’t experienced perhaps ever. She put them away in the closet and the chest of drawers. Mom even made my sister’s bed and organized some knick-knacks on top of the bureau. My sister’s books found a cozy home on the book shelves, her notebooks and crayons and pencils found their spot in her desk. The room, y’all, looked, ummm … how shall I say this without hurting my sister’s feelings? I know—clean. And habitable. And the carpet looked practically new, even though it wasn’t. (That’s the plus side to having all of one’s belongings all over the floor—preservation of the carpet!)
My mom joked that she took a half-dozen trash bags of items from my sister’s room to donate. My sister found no humor in it, felt broken-hearted at her missing things (although she couldn’t name one thing that was missing) and, true to her word, she never went to camp again.
In fact, she was 24 when she moved out.
When my daughters went to summer camp last year, they left behind rooms that rivaled my sisters’ room of almost thirty-years ago. As I changed their sheets (once I found them crumpled at the foot of their beds), I contemplated cleaning their rooms. I knew it was be a good chance for me to purge items that they didn’t need without their lamentations over my discards.
But, then I remembered that my sister didn’t ever go to camp again and didn’t move out until she was 24. My mom and dad had no week during the summer to just, ya know, take a break. So, I decided that my daughters’ rooms can be a mess for the next ten years or so.
Heather Davis is a momma, a writer and a strong proponent of summer camp. She blogs at www.Minivan-Momma.com. She and her husband have two messy daughters and enjoy their free weeks during the summer.