In thirteen days, four hours and ten minutes my daughter will head to summer camp, her final year as a camper.
She hasn’t stopped talking about camp since the moment she handed me her overstuffed duffle bags cramped with dirt, mud, mismatched socks and insurmountable memories from her experience last year.
My daughter suffers from Campitis.
She has from the first moment she separated, not from me, but from her camp, eight years ago.
Back then she was a little squirt entering the third grade.
She had learned about her sleepaway camp completely by accident. She and I were running errands and bumped into the mother of a little girl who had attended pre-school class with my daughter years before. Being that it was 91 degrees at 8:15 in the morning and insufferably humid, the topic of summer was hard to ignore, and so I casually asked this woman about her kids and what they were up to over the summer. Her eyes lit up as she dove into telling us they were spending a month at sleepaway camp canoeing and craft making in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She explained how magical this place was, how she had gone as a child, how her husband had as well, and now, their children were proud members of the same camp too. Apparently there were so many alumnae with the same generational track record that the camp had formed a special group for them.
I was pleasant and listened, but completely aloof to the experience, having not wanted to leave my mother’s side until I was old enough to drive.
My daughter, on the other hand, was enraptured.
The minute we parted ways she announced, “I want to go there too.”
I explained that this was an overnight thing. Several over nights. Far away. Not like a playdate with her best friend or a sleepover at her aunt’s house.
“I know,” she replied with unwaivering confidence.
“You won’t be able to call or speak to Mommy or Papi for a while,” I added, noting the fear rising in my voice, maybe hoping I’d scare her a bit too.
“I get it Mom, I want to go.” She rebuttled without even blinking.
“You wouldn’t be able to attend the same session as this lady’s daughter. You won’t know anybody,” I added sneakily, assuming this would be the coup d’état to keeping her home and safe with me. (Sometimes a mother’s will has no limits.)
But my daughter? My daughter who doesn’t think twice about new situations? Who charges through life with enthusiasm and zest and zeal, well, she’s way braver than I ever was and her mind was already made up.
“I don’t care, Mom. I wanna go,” she said resolutely.
If I had my mother’s skirt to cling on, I would have clung.
She left, giddy and excited, and I endured the summer with an increased dosage of Shiraz.
I also attempted to distract myself in the kitchen.
Old, forgotten recipes that had been waiting in the sidelines suddenly became critically important.
Breads that needed kneading. Cakes that required layering. Sauces that begged stirring, all were placed under my constant, vigilant care.
Every afternoon I’d take a break from whatever I was sizzling and run to the mailbox in hopes of a message, even if it would be a quick hello in my daughter’s crooked writing or a standard camp form with an oversized bubble circling the “I’m having fun!” sentence.
I got nothing.
And so the cooking grew more incessant.
I pulled out fancy herbs.
And went to work with the Microplane grater.
I visited musty Indian shops where locals eyed me suspiciously and came out with handfuls of clouded jars holding mysterious powders and curries of all shades and intensities.
I chopped a lot root vegetables with exotic names.
I thought of all those parents who had lied to me, all those parents who had told me I would have the time of my life! Would get to relax! Would finally have a break! Enjoy myself! Be free! And I added more red pepper flakes to my sauces.
I knew little about my daughter’s day-to-day activities except that she would, at some point, ride a horse, sleep in a tent, and sing songs.
I was fearful she wouldn’t fit in.
Cry herself to sleep every night.
Need me and not survive, like, quietly, I realized, I needed her.
But I kept those thoughts to myself.
Shed my tears under the premise of a strong onion or two or three.
Added more olive oil and pounded more scallopini.
The camp counselors called several times. They were bubbly, perky college kids who’d begin each call with “This is not an emergency, Danny is okay,” and I remember feeling stunned, distanced, removed; wondering, “Who is Danny? When did Daniela change her name?”
They called to let me know how great she was doing. They’re lying. How adjusted she was. She must need her mommy. How many friends she already had. That’s code for she’s totally alone. It was hard to hear them over the voice in my head.
I pulled out more curry and became fixated on Chardonnay.
Until finally, dehydrated and oozing garlic, the day came when I picked my daughter up from camp. I walked in the woods amongst the cabins searching for her. I was trying to be cool, forcing myself to practice a casual stride, when I spotted her sitting on a bench with five other girls under a leafy tree. She looked beautiful, even if her hair was matted and her shorts were full of mud. She didn’t see me at first, she was too busy socializing. The girls were all listening to her story. All laughing. All calling her Danny. And my daughter was thriving and happy, doing just fine without her mom.
It was a bittersweet moment for me.
On the one hand, I was so relieved and so proud. She hadn’t broken down without me, in fact, she’d flourished, she’d grown.
On the other hand, she hadn’t broken down without me, in fact, she’d flourished, she’d grown.
See the conundrum? And I didn’t even have my stovetop to work it out over.
“Daniela,” I called, hopeful.
She looked up and her face lit up instantly. “Mommy!” she shouted, melting my heart.
No amount of Chive Blini with Crème Fraiche, Quail Eggs, and Tarragon can match that feeling, I tell you.
We hugged and she quickly introduced me to her new best friends.
She was alive and jittery with excitement. She insisted on giving me a tour of the entire campgrounds, waving and greeting everyone along the way.
Everyone greeted and waved back: “Hey, Danny! What’s up, Danny? That your Mom, Danny?”
This was her turf and I was happy to share a tiny portion of it with her.
When it came time for us to go she hugged her besties and together they all cried. I turned away giving them some privacy while silently wishing I had brought them some food. Maybe that Chicken Curry. That’s always good to share amongst friends. I could picture them with bowls of the stuff, swinging their legs and laughing in between bites.
“See you next summer!” She decreed hopefully.
“Yes! Yes! Next summer!” They all replied in unison.
And so it was written in tears and hugs and the next summer, they all met.
And the next.
And the next.
And so on and so forth it has gone.
I’ve cooled it on the kitchen craziness when my daughter leaves for camp. My son joined her several years back and I’ve actually gotten used to the time alone. Maybe even relish it a teeny tiny bit. Plus, I don’t have to tinker with my sauces anymore, I can make my curry how I like it, extra hot.
Only thirteen days, four hours and six minutes left.
- 5 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 1 large onion, sliced thin
- 3 cardamom pods
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2-4 teaspoon hot curry (depends on you)
- 2 large tomatoes, chopped
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 5 curry leaves
- 1 tablespoon sweet chutney (honey if you don’t have)
- 1 chicken, cut in eight pieces
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ cup water
- ¼ cup white wine
- 2 potatoes, peeled and quartered (I prefer Yukon Gold)
- ½ cup fresh green peas
- handful of fresh cilantro
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in cinnamon, onion, cardamom pods, turmeric and cumin and fry until golden. Add curry powder, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and curry leaves and leave to cook for about 5 minutes.
- Add chicken and salt. Sauté until chicken is slightly golden, five minutes per side.
- Stir in chutney, water, and wine.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add potatoes and cook another 20 minutes.
- Stir in peas and cook another 5 minutes.
- Add fresh cilantro, adjust salt.
- Alternatively: you can make this dish with chicken breasts, just reduce cooking time of chicken by half.
- Serves 6