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Setting: It’s late summer and a school group is kicking off their school year with a two-night camping trip in a beautiful state park. Dozens of tents flap in the breeze. The surface of the lake shimmers in the sunlight.

Cast: 87 energetic children ages 9 – 14. A dozen or so adults (stalwart teachers and shell-shocked parents)

lakechamplain
Scene 1 – Teenage Girl with black bangs so long she can barely see and purple fingernail polish stands in line for food. She wears yoga pants that are rolled down at the waist and a university sweatshirt. Teacher serving food wonders whether she got the sweatshirt from her brother or her college-age boyfriend.

Teenage Girl: What’s for breakfast? Is that oatmeal? Gross. Oatmeal is disgusting. (Flicks hair over shoulder)

Teacher: Have you tried it lately?

Teenage Girl: Yeah, like 2 months ago. (Rolls eyes)

Teacher: But did you try it with raisins and brown sugar?

Teenage Girl: Raisins? They’re even grosser.

Teacher: What?! Raisins are nature’s candy.

Teenage Girl: (Contemptuously) Like, whatever.

Scene 2 – Pre-teen Girl with dirty blond hair, a “princess” t-shirt, and a tough attitude sits on a swing. Parent chaperone approaches her.

Pre-teen: What do you mean I hafta listen to you? It’s 2:30 and my Dad said I don’t hafta listen to you teachers after school hours.

(Parent chaperone looks stunned and does not respond.)

Pre-teen: I’m bored! I wish I were home!

Parent Chaperone: (Recovering herself) What would you be doing at home?

Pre-teen: Lying around.

Parent Chaperone: Possibly being bored?

Pre-teen: Yeah.

Scene 3 – Three 9 year old boys are in their pajamas and sleeping bags inside a tent. The parent chaperone has just convinced them to turn off the light.

Boy 1: Please. There’s no Jonas Brothers on my i-pod.

Boy 2: Let’s tell scary ghost stories!

Boy 1 and Boy 3: Yeah!

Boy 2: Wait, do you believe in ghosts?

Boy 1: Yeah.

Boy 3: Uh-huh. So, there are these 3 boys…

Boy 1: What about vampires?

Boy 3: I’m trying to tell a story! Stop talking! So, there are these 3 boys…

Boy 2: Wait, wait. Does this story have a moral? I hate stories with morals.

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She’s only 75 feet away from me but I know that she has gone further. Much further.

She’s with a group of kids we met just a few days ago. This amalgamation of youth is camp magic: 5 + 2 + 3 + 1 = 11 children, ages 3 to 12; separate clusters now established as a pack. I hear her voice lifting above the indistinguishable murmur of sopranos and altos. They are gathering sticks to roast marshmallows. Her words are an incomprehensible string, but her timbre is unmistakeable. She sounds thrilled.bonfire

The screened porch is my observation deck. I trust that I am unseen in the shadows of the gloaming. She is holding hands with two girls, a forever friend and one newly minted. They are skipping together. Their giggles tinkle on the breeze.

She is delighted by this spoonful of independence.

I am struck with melancholy for the baby she was. She who clung to my breast in what I grimly referred to as my “fourth trimester,” who flatly refused to acknowledge strangers’ salutations even when prompted by a parent, whose outraged screams reverberated in my head long after I had departed from her daycare.

She’s growing up. She’ll need me less in some ways, more in others. My heart swells and minutes pass as I stand motionless.

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