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Go to Camp, Make Beaver

Mark’s beaver, Ottawa, July 2017

I’ve just spent five minutes laughing at a beaver. Not just any random rodent hanging out in the neighbourhood, but Mark’s paper-bag beaver, with its crooked eyes, Canadian flag and goofy teeth.

No, I’m not high, I promise—it’s not legal yet, anyway.

Shortly before midnight, I went downstairs for the final end-of-day cleanup that invariably involves picking up small LEGO pieces and bringing back leftovers TV snacks to the kitchen. Mark’s beaver had fallen under the chair. I put it on the table, looked at it properly and hilarity ensued.

I shared the moment with Feng, still working at his computer upstairs.

“I can’t think of anything more Canadian than making a beaver at the summer camp,” I admitted.

“What do you think they do at Americans camps?”

“Target practice?” I suggested.

“And in French camps…”

“ … kids bake bread and harvest grapes,” I completed.

Late June, when it became obvious that the school year was indeed over and we needed to keep Mark busy and happy for the next little while, we were stuck. Our respective workloads ebb and flow but there was no downtime yet. And unfortunately, I don’t have one of these fun “take your child to work” jobs. With my current client, when I go on site, I have to lock my phone and all electronic devices in a safe outside the office, so bringing a four-year-old along with my skills is not an option.

Besides, I doubt Mark would find my work fascinating. “You’re good at this,” he noted the other day, watching me typing furiously on my keyboard. “What are you doing?” “I’m editing the following sentence: ’the organization cannot support the operation of such operating procedures in the specific operational context’ because if I read “opera-something’ one more time, my brain will explode and my eyes will bleed.” “Oh, okay. Huh, is it time for my story now?” he asked, not quite willing to help me find synonyms.

“Camp!” every parent around us suggested. Camp? I had an irrational problem with the terminology. Refugee camps, concentration camps, boot camps, work camps … in French, the word “camp” doesn’t exemplify “summer fun.” I mean, even in English the dictionary defines “camp” as “a place with temporary accommodations of huts, tents, or other structures, typically used by soldiers, refugees, prisoners, or travellers.”

But inexplicably, “summer camps” is the local term and yes, they are an institution for Canadian families, providing a fun environment for kids and relief for working parents.

So that first Tuesday of July, as our Southern neighbours were celebrating Independence Day, I was once again entrusting strangers with the care of Mark at way-too-early-o’clock (fun fact: if you weren’t a morning person before having kids, you don’t magically embrace an early start once you become a parent). First daycare/school/camp drop-off is my parenting trademark. I suspect if Feng was witnessing any sign of separation anxiety, he would drive home with Mark in the back seat.

I wasn’t quite sure Mark understood the concept of summer camp, although I’d argue I sold it beautifully—eh, I work in communications!—with the promise of fun and friends. Well, to be honest, that was the name of the camp, “fun’n’friends,” which is 100% parent approved and a hell of a lot more marketable than “drugs and rock’n’roll” or “little terrorist training camp”—although these could appeal to a certain audience, I guess.

We stepped into a room of the community centre where a bunch of kids were already playing. I signed Mark in. “See the people with a green shirt? They’re the teachers.” I was happy to see that they were young and alleluia, the staff included a couple of guys. Awesome! Since North America apparently believes any male interested in working with kids is a potential pedophile, Mark’s former daycares and current school have very few male employees.

“Go ahead, you can check out the toys and games!” I encouraged.

Mark took a few tentative steps toward the kids, all sitting on the wooden floor, playing in groups. He came back to me.

“I … yes, I checked.”

“Go play, then!”

Mark stood there, probably hoping he was invisible and I was going to forget why we were here.

“I know, it’s hard when you don’t know anyone. But they didn’t know each other an hour ago, they just arrived a bit earlier and started playing.”

“Mommy … these kids look big…” Mark whispered accusingly, as if I had deliberately set him up for failure. Okay, he was right. Some of the kids were much taller, since the camp was for 4-to-6-year-old kids. At this age, a couple of years makes a difference.

“Look, join the LEGO group. I promise I won’t leave until you’re okay.”

Mark sat with a group and started building something. I walked over to him.

“Can I go now?”

“Yep.”

“Really?”

“YES! I just told you!” he replied, exasperated.

Like for every first day—first day at daycare, first day at school—I was nervous until pick up time. I shouldn’t have worried—Mark didn’t want to leave. “You’ll be back tomorrow,” I promised. The lunch box was completely empty (YES! Finally! When you give kids proper breaks, they EAT!) and Mark had made a few crafts.

And here we are now, a few days into the camp experience. We have a new pile of crafts (sigh… I had just sorted out the ones from school…), Mark has a couple of scratches and bruises, we hear names of new friends, he insists on playing games we don’t know and inserts “eh” in his sentences.

Canadians do camps right. I’ll give them that.

Mark’s beaver, Ottawa, July 2017

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