Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


If you happened to read yesterday's post, then you know that two of our daughters are now away at sleepaway camp. Their packing choices speak volumes about their adolescent development and respective stages. The packing for one child was a tribute to minimalism. She followed the packing list with almost no deviation at all, fit everything into two duffle bags, with room to spare, and three plastic drawers, which all the kids bring to camp these days because there never seems to be enough shelf space (of course, the cabins don't have enough space to accommodate all the plastic drawers the campers bring but that's another story altogether). She had nothing to carry by hand other than the requisite backpack, which, in her case, was light as could be. Her duffles and drawers fit easily into the SUV that we rented for the drive up to camp.

Enter her older sister. She used to pack the very same way. Those days are gone. In the days leading up to this year's departure for camp, her stuff covered every available square inch of our family room. I went out to pick up the last thing she was sure she needed about 25 times. Her two duffle bags were bursting at the seams (she admitted to getting blisters when she tried to zipper them shut) and she filled 4 drawers rather than 3. It was still not enough. She had 2 fans, 2 chairs, a tennis racket, a sleeping bag and more that just wouldn't fit. She insisted she wasn't bringing any more than she had in prior years. Seriously, any fool could see that she was taking way more - but this fool couldn't figure out what was taking up all the space. I had her remove a few items to make a little additional room, all the while wondering how we'd ever fit everything into one car. She removed a towel, a few fancier-than-necessary tops and her tennis racket. We schlepped it all to the car and enlisted the help of our very clever doormen who miraculously managed to squish in every last bit and then tied the various pieces together and to the car itself.

When we got the kids up to camp, I helped them unpack. The minimalist was unpacked with ease. There was a space for everything. When I moved down the row of cabins to see her older sister, I was stumped anew. I still couldn't figure out what she had packed, much less where we would put it all. And then out came a big case of makeup, a big bag of hair products and perfume, a bunch of crazy outfits for wacky dress up nights and a bunch of pretty outfits for other nights - all this from the luggage of a kid who is not even remotely a princess in her city life! Then I saw some of her friends unpacking similarly ridiculous items. Everything was unpacked with the seemingly clear understanding among a gaggle of teenage girls that it was all to be shared. That's when I realized that the crazy packing had been planned by committee - each camper agreeing to do her part by bringing an ample supply of "stuff" to share with the group. At this point, these girls have been going to camp together for the last 6 years and their friendships have transcended the summer camp experience. They are life friends that plan all year long for their summer together. The "stuff" they bring is part and parcel of a master plan. I can't lie, I still teased her about the insanity of her packing (which was completely outdone, mind you, by at least one of her bunk mates and probably more) but it was good-natured and light-hearted and based in understanding as well as appreciation of the strength and importance of the bonds of camp friendships. Sometimes the best a mom can do is help find a place for "stuff" rather than dwell on and question the necessity of it all. At the end of the day, all I really want from the summer is that each of my kids has the greatest experience possible and if it takes some makeup, a few cute tops and 9 pairs of shoes to do it, then I can show my support by taking a hammer out of my bag (true story: I brought a hammer and nails!) and start giving her some extra hooks and shelving.

In the early days of this blog, I read and loved Mary Roach's Packing for Mars, which I heartily endorse once again. Mary Roach has a unique way of making science hysterically funny and readable. This is a quick read that happens to be one of my favorite non-fiction adult books.

The post also brings to mind a fun children's picture book that was a Kindergarten - Second Grade Book of the Year finalist for the Children's Choice Book Awards in 2009. Check out Sort it Out! by Barbara Mariconda, illustrated by Sherry Rogers. Just a hint - the main character is Packy the Packrat and his mother has had enough!


  1. Oh, I like Mary Roach, and I didn't know about this book. Thanks for for the tip!

  2. In 8 weeks it all be unpacked at your family room -
    much more fun...