At lunch the other day my friend sipped a glass of white wine and announced that she’d convinced her daughter’s orthodontist to lie. She’d persuaded him to tell her daughter that her braces wouldn’t come off in June, as he’d promised. They’d need to stay on until September. “She’s going to sleep away camp and I don’t want her kissing any boys,” she explained.
“Genius,” the friend across from me laughed.
“What!” I almost choked on a piece of bread. “You can’t do that to her.”
“I can and I did,” my friend said with assuredness.
“I’m going to write about this,” I said as if the threat would knock some sense into her.
“Go ahead,” she said unfazed.
This is why I don’t go for lunch, I thought.
As I sat there, I remembered the summer of 1976. Camp Blue Star, the year of the bicentennial. I was twelve. I had a boy’s haircut and braces. At camp that summer, I cupped fireflies in my bare hands and roasted marshmallows around campfires. I swam in the lake and did macramé. But what I waited for all season was the dance, The Social.
Two days before camp ended, the night of The Social, I borrowed a new friend’s jeans and wore a bra for the first time. This was not a small leap, this transition felt gigantic, and as anxiety producing as if I were face to face with a hungry lion. At the dance, I was nervous and self-conscious. I stood on the side watching until Roller Coaster of Love played and a really cute boy asked me to dance.
My parents were somewhat conservative (although at the time my father drove a red motorcycle; and my mother, a petite Jewish woman, grew an afro) and so in a way sending me to camp that summer was an act of faith. In me. I had to take care of myself. I had freedom.
After the dance, that boy walked me back to my cabin. And behind a bush, the most exciting thing happened. We kissed.
I experienced a lot of new things that summer. On a hike, I saw a snake for the first time and near a blackberry bush, a bee stung me. I got a high fever, and in the infirmary, alone, I missed my mother.
Wanting my friends to know that controlling their children wasn’t a good idea, I said, “You can still make out with braces.”
But they wouldn’t relent. To them, kissing was a gateway drug. They had their beliefs and I had mine. I wouldn’t trade my experiences at sleep away camp for anything in the world, not even the moment I found out my trunk didn’t arrive, and amongst strangers, I had no clothes. I built muscle. I figured it out.
There are times you have to let go: with your children and with your friends.