Sometimes Two Minus One Equals Three

MOST 10-year-olds lack the capacity to offer a full rendering of their feelings and experiences regarding a week’s worth of completely new activities, surroundings, and people. And so it is difficult to determine where R.’s heart was with respect to the week of sleep-away camp from which we picked her up last weekend.

She was presented to us with frizzed-out hair, a body devoured by insects, an ear-to-ear smile, and crushing hugs. Yes, she had fun. The food was … okay. Rock climbing and zip-lining were awesome. She made some new friends. The nighttime thunderstorm that woke her up sent her scurrying to her counselor. She missed us terribly.

The question of questions, of course: Would you go again?

The answer? Noncommittal. Not an outright no, not an enthusiastic yes. A very firm … “maybe.”

I’m not so sure that J. and I can say the same; we might be leaning to “no.”

This is not only because we missed R. terribly. It was also because one of the things we learned during our week of parenting just one kid, a charismatic and way-too-old-for-her-years 5-year-old, is that R. seems to be something of a neutralizing agent. In her absence, Q. proved to be frighteningly intense, especially in the mornings, when J. had her by herself. Stubborn and uncooperative would be kind ways to describe her behavior, from what I heard. These traits by no means disappear when R. is around, but when she was gone they were apparently off the charts.

This next thing is easy for me to say, as J. bore the brunt of Q.’s foray into teenage madness, but I think she’d agree: The thing that R. told us she learned about herself during her week away made the whole thing worth it. “I learned,” she told us, “that I might think at first that I don’t like something but change my mind after I try doing it.”

I sure wish I had learned that lesson at 10. | DL

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