Thursday, June 29, 2006

camp blather, part II

On an evening early on in our weeklong stay, Iris developed a fixation on the gorgeous 16 year-old girl staying in the next cabin. This girl was part of a large, extended family gathering, and on one magical evening, she held Iris and her littler cousin by the hand and took them to the store, buying them candy and Slim Jims (it was a mark of Iris's huge esteem that she, the tiny vegetarian activist who spent much of her vacation creating anti-meat posters, grossed out by the dining room meat-eaters, instantly forgave her idol for buying her meat). Iris sat with this idol at the staff talent show and was in heaven.

For the rest of the week, the 16 year-old goddess (and she was a goddess, with long, perfect golden hair and the sort of flawless figure only a 16 year old can have) paid virtually no attention to Iris, and Iris, obsessed with her, took it out on me. For days, Iris would harangue me. "I want the neighbors, where are the neighbors?" She would choose a seat at the dining hall behind the neighbors, so she could stare at the object of her obsession. She was so frustrated and at times teary. I tried to explain that a 16 year-old and a 6 year-old only had so much in common and that a 16 year-old needed to go off and do teenaged things (word was this one was spending some quality time with one of the lifeguards), but Iris would not listen and felt that I didn't understand and wasn't helping. This drove me crazy for days.

On one wretched day, it rained and rained, and we were cooped up in our tiny, muddy cabin. I felt irked as I had, while packing, checked the weather forecast and learned that we were set for a week of sun and high temperatures. Stir-crazy, we drove to the nearby Hetch Hetchy water preserve to see where our urban water comes from. We hiked a bit (the rain was almost all on the other side of the ridge, over at Camp Mather, so we had only intermittent showers at Hetch Hetchy). Lucy was deeply disturbed by the idea that the water she saw would go to San Francisco and exit in faucets. "I don't want that going to any house!" she kept saying. She seemed traumatized by this, oddly enough, and for the rest of her time in the Sierras, she would point to any body of water she saw and say, "I don't want that going to a house!"

When finally the sun came back out and we got a warmer day, we took the children to Camp Mather's tiny swimming pool. Iris wanted to practice for the swimming test needed to venture into the deep end and the lake, and Lucy enjoyed splashing about and playing on a purple inflated float. I sat at the shallow end, with my feet in the water, to keep an eye on the children (there was also a lifeguard on duty, an inscrutable teenager with his eyes hidden behind dark shades). I got hotter and hotter in my warm shirt and asked Anton to give me my t-shirt, which he'd borrowed. He threw it over my head, where it landed in the pool. As I fished my wet shirt out of the pool and turned to interrogate my husband as to what the hell he'd been thinking, Lucy slipped off her float and went down. The lifeguard and I were both oblivious. The swimming teacher pulled Lucy up, got her coughing up what she'd swallowed, and brought her to me. I felt like an idiot, of course. I held Lucy and wrapped her up in a towel and warmed her and felt incredibly lucky that she was okay and incredibly stupid that I'd taken my eyes from her for a minute.

Lucy didn't go back into the pool for the rest of our vacation, feeling no desire to go near it. She did, on our last day, wade into the shallow lagoon end of the lake up to her knees in search of polliwogs, but that was as much aquatic adventure as she wished.

On Friday, Iris, feeling brave, asked my permission to go to dinner at the dining hall by herself. She knew how to sign in by giving our cabin number, and she said it would be okay to sit by herself, so I granted permission. The rest of us were running late to dinner, as we were chatting with a friendly German father and his little son at the lake. I needed to shower, as early I had been in the muddy lake lagoon catching polliwogs for Iris, which we released after scrutinizing their budding limbs and bulbous heads.

Wanting to check in on Iris, I went ahead of Anton and Lucy and discovered her sitting at a table with older children, including the also glamorous 12 year old younger sister of Iris's idol (the idol being nowhere in sight). I left her there, as she was obviously happy, and picked a table outside in the sun.

After dinner, Iris asked permission to run off with the other children for a while, and we agreed. [For the concerned readers, let me explain that this, unthinkable by city standards, was normal by Camp Mather standards. Older children went to the store by themselves, went bicycling about on the paths by themselves, played by themselves, etc... Camp Mather is located far from any town or highway, in the high Sierras]. I prevailed upon Anton to go play badminton with me (Lucy intermittently tried to serve by throwing the birdie barely over the net or played by the court). We played until we began to worry about Iris. I took Lucy to the just-starting children's Friday night dance, and Anton set off in search of Iris. After Lucy's mishap, we were filled with paranoid worries that the children had gone to the lake and drowned. Eventually Anton came back and reported that Iris, whom we'd been so worried about, had been in our neighbor's cabin, wearing a borrowed hot pink beret. The 12 year-old had paid Iris $5 to pack for her. (Every time Anton and I ever become worried about Iris, it without fail develops that she is off somewhere demonstrating how she is truly the world's littlest teenager and performing at a level far beyond her age).

Lucy loved the children's dance, learning the chicken dance and the bunny hop and performing the limbo, which was familiar to her due to her repeated viewings of "PeeWee's Playhouse." The music changed from little kids' music to a mix of mild funk and 80's dance, as things segued into a family dance. Iris showed up, but she would not dance with her old mother, preferring to join in a group of older children circling around the glamorous 12 year-old (who proved to be an inspired dancer). Anton took Lucy back to the cabin to try to put her to bed. Feeling at odds, I went up to a circle of dancing women and said, "Can I dance with you mommmies? My daughter won't dance with me!" They laughed, and I had so much fun dancing with them. I realized that we were exactly at the right point in life to abandon ourselves to dancing without concern: as we were all mated, we weren't trying to look cool or get laid.

Anton brought Lucy back. Hearing the music in the distance, Lucy could get to sleep and asked to be brought back to Mommy. But then, suddenly the music changed to a raunchy hiphop tune, and the teenaged staff of Camp Mather, who had evidently been waiting in the shadows, leapt onto the floor and started grinding away on each other. This abrupt transition was bizarre. (Perhaps I should have been prepared for this: the morning after the "teen ice cream social" earlier in the week, I discovered a hastily ripped open Trojans box on the ground). My dancing mothers pulled back and faded away to their cabins. I waded into the dance floor and pulled Iris out, telling her it was time to go back to the cabin. The 12 year-old, extremely uncomfortable with the turn of events, asked if she could walk back with us. I was charmed by her innocence, as she talked about how disturbing it was when kids dirty-dance. But back at the cabins, her father was upset that she'd left the dance just as it was becoming a teen dance (the dance had scheduled segments: kids' dance, family dance, teen dance, with set start-times, and, as we learned, musical cues dramatically announcing each phase). He pressured her to go back with him. I said that I felt she had good boundaries and that what I'd seen was something I'd have been more comfortable with in college, but the father felt strongly. He hopped on his fake-fur trimmed bicycle to ride back and see the dance for himself. His daughter started that eternal card game, war, with Iris, and I drifted back to my own area to read my Ayun Halliday memoir. The father returned, and he insisted on returning his daughter back to the teen dance. I was irked when he spoke to Iris in what seemed to be a cruel way, rubbing it in that she could not go to the dance but that his daughter had to go because she was a teenager. Anton later opined that perhaps the father felt his child was acting too young for her age, but I was absolutely mindblown by the fact that a parent would push a 12 year-old into a social scene she felt was too sexualized for herself.

Poor Iris, who is sensitive, had to fall back on playing "Sorry" with her parents. Eventually she, too, went off to bed. I ended up staying up quite late, getting drunk on Rainwater Madeira with a different neighbor, after even Anton went off to bed.

The next morning, tired and frustrated (everyone but Lola) and hung-over (only me), it was time to pack up our belongings and return home.

1 comment:

Green said...

That was a really good story. I recall being on vacations and being surprised with what our parents let my brother and I do - go canoe-ing in Florida on a golf course resort? SURE! Go run down to Lake Win. in NH to feed the ducks sugar cubes while our parents stayed inside? SURE!

Vacations are wonderful for just that reason. Good for Iris for earning $5! Smart cookie. Good for the 12 year old for wanting to leave when she's uncomfortable. How sad that she's got a schmuck of a father.

Sorry Lucy fell into the water but glad somebody saw and she's safe.