I have to be honest, I hated summer camp. I was a bit of a homebody. I was never a huge fan of bunk beds. Dining halls. Campouts. Campfires. Roughing it. Arts & Crafts. Just not my thing.
My daughters, on the other hand, all loved summer camp. Especially sleepaway camps. Each one of them couldn’t wait to be old enough to go to camp for a week, two weeks… even a month. They loved being away from home. Loved making new friends. Loved staying up late. Trying new activities. Eating whatever they wanted (or didn’t want). It was their favorite time of the year.
My youngest daughter is no exception. She has been to a variety of sleepaway camps, but her father prefers that all the camps she attends have a tennis program. She is an excellent tennis player, but she doesn’t love the sport. She agrees to going to tennis camp because she just likes camp. Admittedly, she likes playing in tennis tournaments and being on the high-school team, but tennis is just not her passion.
After years of lessons, clinics and camps, she has steadily improved, but you cannot make someone fall in love with your passion. My husband and I finally decided that it was probably not worth sending her to any more tennis camps. But then one of her friends said that she was going to this one tennis camp where her brother had gone. He became the top player in the state. My husband heard that and his eyes lit up. It is more of training facility than a camp. It’s less about making s’mores, beach outings, unlimited frozen yogurt cups, and more about becoming a true competitor. I didn’t think she would want to go to a camp that was all about training. But when she heard that the students live in off-campus housing and get to be responsible for themselves (cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, etc), she liked the idea of spending three weeks away from home practicing to be an adult. Her father liked the idea that the camp had an incredible reputation for generating great players. So it was kind of a win-win.
She was excited to go. We warned her that the training would be hard and that the living situation would not be luxurious. And yet, with no fear, she packed herself, flew by herself to California, and settled in with her new housemates and coaches. We didn’t hear much from her… a few texts here and there. But mostly, it was fairly quiet on the western front. After about a week, I finally called her to try and get some more details of her experiences. She said the people were nice. The coaches were good. She didn’t like that they had a running coach. She couldn’t understand what tennis had to do with long-distance running. I explained to her about conditioning and endurance, but she wasn’t buying it. She continued to argue that tennis players only have to sprint from one side of the court to the other. (Here’s a tip: Don’t argue with a 14-year-old. It’s a lost cause.) Other than the running requirements, she seemed to be having fun.
The following week, I called her again to see how it was going. She still seemed to be in good spirits. She liked the program, but was still complaining about the mandatory running. I asked her what she was doing for meals. She said that they would usually go out for lunch. I asked her what about dinners? She said she was eating Cup of Noodles every night.
That’s when I lost it. WHAT? You have a kitchen! They take you to the grocery store. You know how to cook. Why are you eating Cup of Noodles?
She had a million excuses. There were 8 people sharing the kitchen. There was only one frying pan. They were eating big lunches. They got home late… blah, blah, blah.
Then she complained that she wasn’t playing with the top group and that wasn’t as much fun.
Then she admitted that she missed the enrollment deadline for the second weekend tournament. So she spent a weekend just hanging around the apartment.
She was fine with that. More time for Netflix. I was quietly seething.
I started to question whether this program was really right for her. I was not sure if she was really learning anything. She didn’t seem all that happy. She was eating terribly and wasn’t that into the training. What was the point of spending all this money if she wasn’t coming back more motivated, better, or having matured from being responsible for herself after three weeks?
But then the last day, I got a text from her. It was a picture of a greasy frying pan and a random assortment of bottles and jars cluttering up a dirty kitchen counter. The caption read:
This is why I am not cooking here. This countertop gives me anxiety.
My heart melted, and in some perverse way, I felt overjoyed.
MY daughter who forgets to pick up her wet towel off the floor. The one who doesn’t bother to hang up her jackets. The same one who shoves her clothes randomly into her drawers rather than sorting and folding them. Was it possible that my daughter had suddenly learned to appreciate the benefits of a clean and orderly kitchen?!!
At that moment, I could have cared less how much faster she learned to serve. If her volleys were any crisper. If her footwork had gotten better. Or if she could run a mile any faster.
I was beaming because my daughter learned the value of sharing space with other people. She learned what happens when your mother isn’t around to make everything clean and appetizing. She learned that having things the way you want them requires hard work and discipline.
Her dad and I are hopeful that this is the beginning of great things.
He is hopeful that she comes back willing to work harder on her game and start putting more effort into it.
I am just hopeful that the wet towel starts getting hung up on the rack.
We all have our dreams.