Until we were only an hour away, I wasn't worried. There had been no time for doubt to crawl inside me, and I hadn't even bothered to ask the girls if they were scared. But they were. They were worried they wouldn't make friends. They were worried they wouldn't like the food. They had never been away for longer than a night at a home that didn't also have family.
I did my best to quell all their fears, and drove that last hour with my heart in my mouth. I had to keep talking to keep it from rising, screaming, and escaping. From begging me to turn around and take my children home, that I had made a terrible, terrible mistake.
While I tried to tell them how much fun they'd have, my anxiety screamed, If one of them drowns, you'll have to drive four and a half hours to comfort her sisters and identify a corpse. If one of them is lost in the woods, you cannot help find them. If one of them gets sick, if she's vomiting and miserable and needs to come home, it will take you half a day even to get to her. How can they believe you love them if you leave them alone when they're suffering? How can you do this to them?
"You're going to have so much fun," I said. "You're going to make crafts and row canoes and swim in the lake, and you're going to do archery and make s'mores and stay up late..."
"I'm scared, Mommy," a sensitive little soul in the back mewled. "Will you write every day?"
Those postcards won't come in time, my anxiety panted. "Yes, honey. I will write you EVERY day."
"I'll write you every day, too."
With their hair checked for lice, their money checked into the canteen, their bunks made and their needful little things unpacked, I hugged them goodbye. I smiled and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked...
"Mommy, stop talking!" my last daughter said. "You can go!"
And after I had withdrawn my arms from their last hug and returned to the car, with my fingers clasped around the wheel, I opened my mouth and wailed. The sound that came out was not grief, but it was loss. It was weakness. It was strength. It was love.
I wailed until the tears came, talking and talking and talking all the while.
"I'm a terrible mother," I cried, "I left my babies in the woods..."
And Mike laughed and told me I was a good mother for leaving them in the woods, leaving them with new friends and adventures and marshmallows and lots of postcards to write to me.
I received one postcard, written right after I left. "It's confusing and different," she said, and in between every line I could read her broken little heart. I miss you, I miss you, I miss you...
Oh, God, little one, I miss you too.
And five days later I drove that four and a half hours and I was late. Mine were nearly the last children there. They ran to me and wrapped me up in their love before I could even step out of the car. They were tanned and sunburned and their hair was full of syrup, they were covered in mosquito bites and little scratches.
And though my arms ached to hold them longer, I wrapped my fingers around the steering wheel and drove home again, holding in tears of gratitude and relief as they talked and talked and talked and talked...
"Did you get my letters?" I asked.
"I got two," one said.
"I got one from you and one from Daddy."
"I only got one!"
"I'm so sorry, my loves," I said. "I sent one every day, I swear. Two the first day." I did not say they were full of lies, because the only true thing I could send them was how sorry I was, how much I wished they were home.
"Can we go back again next year? Please?"
If your hearts can stand to grow, little ones, I'm pretty sure mine can stand for them to grow, too.
Just forgive me when I talk too much.
Read more about parenting and anxiety here: "What To Do When Your Child is Attacked by Bees
Read my most recent post here: Here We Go Again, ACA Edition
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