Coming home from camp is like returning from an enchanted forest through a wardrobe, or re-entering earth's atmostphere from space: you are leaving a magical place for an ordinary one. Home: a place you missed, filled with people you love but who just don't understand.
When I went to get Lu from Lantern Creek on Friday, I was semi-prepared for this bittersweet adventurer's homecoming. I wasn't prepared for how tall and tan and self-possessed she would be. How her teeth would fit her head better. How she would seem so in command of herself and her world.
She took me on a tour of camp, where I've been a few times, and feel like I know intimately because I've watched Liz and Sunni give birth to it these last two years. But I hadn't seen it through her eyes.
She showed me the Muse (the theater), where she played Wendy in their version of Peter Pan. I met Courtney, her BEST FRIEND IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD. I met various campers and counselors named Shout, Cupcake, Snowflake, Nando, Table, Shiva, and Vulture (fun exercise: what's your camp name? I am still working on mine). When I asked "Toad" her real name, she looked at me earnestly. "Just Toad," she said. And I liked that.
Lucy showed me the place she learned to use a drill and wield a hammer. Where she built and nailed her "one word" on a sign post (her word was "brave"). On the way to Mr. Barrett's Lake, she pointed out the tall grass where the ogres live, noting that ogres are only a little bigger than gnomes, but a lot uglier (I always thought ogres were really big, but I am not an expert on magical creatures). At the lake, she showed me where Pixie (Liz) taught her to canoe. (Note: Liz also taught me to canoe. I was cool and didn't cry.) Lu tried to introduce me to Jerry, the rabbit who lives in a thicket near the garden, but he was otherwise engaged.
We walked by the room where the Dames meet — the Dames is her camp team, one of three teams alongside the Terras and the Gypsies. On the car ride home, I asked her what is means to be a Dame and she said, "Dames are confident and brave. You know, Mom — a Dame? A female warrior?" Duh. I always knew what I had on my hands, but until she drew the purple bead marking her as such, I didn't have such a perfect name for it.
Jason asked her about Jane's Night, a Ren-fair-style evening program that's a magical celebration of the legendary founder of Lantern Creek: the Dread Pirate Jane Brilliant. Now, I have known the founders of Lantern Creek since the early 80s, and neither of them are pirates (unless you count some unfortunate hoop earrings). Jason asked who Jane Brilliant was, and Lu, exasperated, said, "She invented the stars, Dad." Duh. This is the power of magic.
On the way home from camp, we stopped to eat at a Subway in Navasota (perhaps one of the least magical places in Southern U.S.), and she sat in the plastic booth staring into her bag of Sunchips, a bereft version of the self-possessed girl I'd seen at camp.
"What's wrong, babe?"
"I just don't feel right."
"Are you sick?"
"Maybe. I don't know. I'm glad to be coming home, but I just don't feel right not being at Lantern Creek. I belong there."
It's like she had the emotional bends.
Yesterday, we went to see April in the hospital, where is she recovering well from a mitral valve replacement that will (fingers crossed) give her a huge and long overdue quality of life improvement. April chose "Luna" as her Lantern Creek name, and in her honor, the girls at Lantern Creek sing every evening in a ceremony they call "Circle Luna." As a get-well card, Lu drew April a picture of Circle Luna, with all the girls saying goodnight. As Lu described camp to April, I could tell she thought April got it more than I did (April has a strong capacity for magic).
My adventuress-astronaut-dame was home all of 44 hours before we put her on a plane (gulp) all by herself to see Baga and Opa in El Paso. And that was just enough time for her to do her own laundry. A skill she learned at Lantern Creek.
So big. So great.