At lunch the other day my friend sipped a glass of white wine and announced 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 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,” my friend explained.
“Genius,” a second friend laughed.
“What!” I almost choked on my arugula salad. “You can’t do that to her.”
“I can and I did,” my friend said.
“I’m going to write about this,” I said, as if the threat would knock some sense into her.
“Go ahead,” she chewed, unfazed.
Sitting 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. 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, on the night of The Social, I borrowed a friend’s jeans and wore a bra for the first time. This was not a small leap; it felt gigantic. At the dance, I was nervous and self-conscious. Standing on the side, I watched. When Roller Coaster of Love played a really cute boy asked me to dance.
My parents were conservative (although my father drove a red motorcycle and my mother, a petite Jewish woman, wore an afro) and so sending me to camp that summer was an act of faith—in me.
After the dance, the boy walked me back to my cabin. 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, I was stung by a bee. 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 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.