To the Finish Line

Debra Solomon Baker’s Reflections

It’s Not About the Towels

Posted by Debra Solomon Baker on June 13, 2013

I thought I’d try to write a series of pieces called What We’re Learning (Even Though it’s Summer Break).

Here’s Part I:  Mama Will Drive an Hour in the Rain for Some Towels

So, I’m driving on “highway” 20-something to “highway” 8 to a back road I simply adore, especially in the rain, called AA, and Sarah, who is reading a novel that she’s found deep in the pocket of the backseat, doesn’t seem to even notice the dark clouds.  She doesn’t see her mom clutching the steering wheel, doesn’t see the trees swaying, the van swerving, doesn’t see inside her mom’s mind, where a tornado is sweeping up the Nissan Quest, delivering her, and her eleven-year-old daughter (plus all the crap that’s been piled in the car for months—the rollerblades, the six bike helmets, the sleeping bag, the Cardinals blanket, the Life cereal crumbs, the centerpieces that, shit, are still in there from Max’s bar mitzvah back in May), yes delivering us way, way off to never-neverland.  No, Sarah keeps flipping pages, keeps eating her peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread.  “I like this bread,” she mutters.  Yeah, vegetarian-wheat-bread-eating-daughter-of-mine, I bet you do.  Those white bread slices are a little I’ll-miss-you-so-much treat.   Next week, it’s back to Brownberry Whole Grain.

Anyway, so we arrive at Camp Lakewood, the Christian camp where she’s landed mostly because somewhere in the Torah it must command Jews to send their kids to four week and six week, and dear god, eight week summer camp, because that’s all that seems to exist in the Jew-world that we know, and we don’t have the wad of cash necessary to deliver a kid to the woods for the whole summer.  So, she goes to this YMCA camp for one week, and she promises that the before-meal prayers are generic enough, no Jesus this and that, and they don’t make her sit in a chapel and bow her head, and there’s not a man on a cross above the pillow in her bunkbed.

We race out in the now-downpour, the two of us, and dear Sarah passes all of the special little tests that they throw at her.  The 98.6 temperature test.  The head lice screening.  The have-you-been-around-anyone-with-chicken-pox-lately inquisition.   We deposit 30 bucks into the little store account so she can load up on Skittles throughout the week, buy her a water bottle and a bag stuffed with colorful rocks, and head on over to her cabin.

She chooses a bottom bunk which I notice has various sizes of brown stains scattered across the mattress, and even though, without mentioning the word “stain”, I try my best to steer her to the mattress next door, she doesn’t budge, having apparently already fallen in love with this one, so I start covering it all up with her pink polka-dotted sheet and her fleece blanket with peace signs and hearts.   Good as new.

Then, as we begin unloading the piles from the blue duffle bag, dear Grace, who has already announced that this is her fourth summer at camp, asks why Sarah only has one towel.  Dear Grace has a pile of like eighteen towels.   I tell her that the packing list said, one towel, and that they must give you towels for swimming, but she shakes her head, and Sarah says, no mom, they don’t give you towels.  And then, Sarah gives me The Look.

I pull out the packing list, and sure enough, there it is.  The evidence.  Three towels.  THREE towels.

And then the damn committee in my brain does their glorious song-and-dance. Grace, dear Grace with the 18 towels, must have a mother who volunteers in the classroom every Thursday, who doesn’t have grocery bags filled with unmatched socks, who didn’t forget to coat the dog’s fur with anti-tick crap before taking him along on a hike yesterday, who would never, ever yell at her daughter for leaving chocolate chip pancakes unattended, chocolate chip pancakes for the mutt to devour, while her daughter grabbed a ponytail to tie back her knotty nest.  And, even if she would yell at her, she would never yell at her on the morning that she was leaving for sleepaway camp.  No way.  Yes, Grace’s mother was probably sitting at home right now, reading some new parenting book, sipping on herbal tea, relishing in the thought that later she would get to spend all day building Lego castles with her youngest son.

And then dear Grace says, “That’s okay, Sarah, you can borrow one of my towels.”  And I smile weakly at her, and Sarah smiles at her, and then I explain the thorny situation to Sarah’s counselor, nicknamed Rebel, Rebel who tries to brainstorm jazzy solutions and ultimately arrives at some lame-o story about how her mom once forgot to pack her towels too (sweet, but bullshit) and says that, of course, she’ll make sure that Sarah has a clean towel to use, that she can borrow one of hers so poor Sarah won’t have to use the lake-water-infested towel after her nightly showers.

I hug Sarah, and leave.  But as I’m heading back down AA, now in a damn monsoon, trying to silence my committee, trying to tell them to go to hell, trying to reassure myself that the quality of my parenting does not equate with the number of towels that I remember to pack inside my kid’s camp bag, I realize that I am not going home.  There is no way that I am going home.

Yes, I head down AA for what feels like 300 miles and then turn onto some other so-called highway and find, there it is, America’s sweetheart, a Walmart.

And eighty minutes later, I am strutting right back into that cabin, proudly displaying two brand new beach towels, and Sarah leaps out of the little get-to-know-each-other circle and says, “Are they mine?  To keep?” and I stare at my daughter, trying not to cry, thinking about how beautiful and strong she looks, how grown up she’s become, so fast.

And she says, you didn’t have to do that.  And I want to say, I know, Sarah, I know, but what you don’t understand, and what your 20-year-old counselor, Rebel, could never understand, is that this is not about you, my child, and this is certainly, certainly not about towels.

This is about me.


8 Responses to “It’s Not About the Towels”

  1.   LarryO Says:

    You should call Joyce and share 1st time camper stories. Sam is gone for 2 weeks. It appears your Mom story is part of a long and cherished lineage of our people. I tried to remember all the words of the “Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda..” song to help her understand the experience and give her some perspective. I think your story here does a better job. You are both GREAT moms, towels and sunscreen and water shoes included. Enjoy the time alone, because both Sam and Sarah are surely enjoying their time away.

  2.   Debra Says:

    Thanks, Larry, for reading (always) and for commenting. This was not a first-time camp experience, but I’ll call Joyce to swap stories anyway. Hope to see you soon.

  3.   Amy Says:

    as always–wonderful!!! Hope Sarah is having fun!!!

  4.   Dana Brust Says:

    I so enjoyed your blog Debra and it made me teary eyed at the end. I so understood you!

  5.   Debra Solomon Baker Says:

    Thanks. I hope so too.

  6.   Karen Says:

    OMG, I was teary eyed as well. You sound just like me but you have the gift and talent to actually express your feelings so beautifully. You must publish something!!!

  7.   joshwilmsmeyer Says:

    Another great story. Read this after driving around for 90 minutes looking for the right kind of arm floaties for the pool. The conversation that runs through ones head as they drive is amazing. Beautiful piece, Deb.

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