My mom? At camp with me? Trust me, this does not sound good.
I still can’t believe this.
It’s a fine morning in June—the sun is shining, the birds are singing, the bees are buzzing—and I’m standing around in the stake center parking lot with about 200 other people, waiting for rides to girls’ camp. One of the 200 other people is my own mother. She’s going to girls’ camp too. With me.
Mom’s idea of roughing it is staying at a hotel without room service. Now don’t get me wrong. Mom’s great. It’s just sometimes hard for me to believe we’re actually related.
She likes skirts and heels. I like jeans and tennies. She likes her hair sleek and chin-length. I like mine wild and long. She keeps the house (or most of it, anyway) perfectly straight. I keep my room, well, comfortable. She’s interested in art, literature, and the theater. I’m interested in basketball. She wants to teach English at the community college again someday. I want to be a forest ranger. She prefers the great indoors, and I think you know what I prefer.
Which is why I was completely shocked when she made her announcement over Sunday dinner last January.
“Guess what, everybody,” she said brightly as she helped herself to some steamed cauliflower. “I’ve been called to the stake Young Women camp committee. Sister Kaye (she’ll be the camp director) wants me and Sheila Taylor to be her assistants.”
I felt like one of those cartoon characters whose jaw drops and bangs against the dining room table. Sister Kaye, the original outdoors woman and one of my personal heroes, wanted Mom to be her assistant?
My two little brothers started to hoot. “You?”
“Excuse me,” Mom pretended to be very offended. “Do you two have a problem with that?”
Dad laughed, and Mom cracked a sideways grin at him.
My big brother Jared, who’s waiting for his mission call, got up, walked over to her seat, and wrapped one of his big old bear arms around her shoulders.
“Whatever you do, you’ll do better than anybody else,” he said. “You’ll be terrific.”
Me, I cringed inside.
Later that night as I lay in bed, watching the shadow of falling snow through my drapes, I heard my parents talking in the hall.
“I just don’t know if I’m up to it, Glen,” Mom said.
“Of course you are,” Dad answered.
“Did you notice Wendy’s reaction?” Mom dropped her voice. “She didn’t say a word.”
“Look, Joyce,” Dad said, “I’m sure the two of you will manage to have a good time together.”
Mom didn’t answer right away. “She doesn’t even want to be seen in public with me. I have to walk ten paces behind her whenever we go to the mall.”
Dad burst out laughing. “She’s just going through a stage right now. You watch, sweetheart. You’ll win her over. You’ll win everybody over.”
I turned over in bed, my face totally flaming.
For the record, I do not make my own mother walk ten paces behind me whenever we go to the mall. And another thing: I hate the way adults dismiss the way you feel by dishing up that tired old line about going through a stage.
I buried my face in my pillow and talked to Heavenly Father in my head the way I sometimes do when I’m upset or scared.
I love my mother just fine. I promise I do. It’s just that camp is my thing, not hers.
So here it is. I’m going. Mom’s going. Right now she’s rotating among the groups of leaders and girls standing in tight little clusters around the parking lot. She’s smiling, cheerfully asking everybody questions about themselves.
After standing around for about 30 minutes, we begin loading up. Finally. My best friends (Melissa and Amy) and I crawl into Sister Kaye’s big orange van. There’s already a group of girls inside, rocking back and forth singing old Beatles’ songs at the top of their lungs. Sister Kaye sits behind the steering wheel while Sister Taylor sits by her in the passenger’s seat.
The only thing I can think is how glad I am there’s still room in Sister Kaye’s van for me.
“Hey there,” Sister Kaye greets us with a smile as warm as an old quilt. “Make yourselves comfortable, okay?”
Sister Kaye is probably about 50. She has short wavy hair, and she has a perpetually tan face (cross-country skiing in the winter, tennis in the summer) full of friendly creases.
Sister Taylor’s okay, too, I guess. It’s just that sometimes I wish she weren’t quite so nice. I think I’d actually like her better if I ever saw her really lose her cool.
“I’ll bet you’re just so thrilled to have your sweet mom going to camp with you, aren’t you, Wendy?” Sister Taylor asks in her whispery voice.
I smile at her politely as I watch Mom crawling into a waiting minivan.
Sister Taylor pokes her blonde head out the window. “Joyce. Wait a minute. Trade me places right this very second. I want you to ride with your cute little Wendy.”
I practically choke on the piece of licorice Melissa has just given me.
Mom blinks. “Really, Sheila. I’m fine.”
“I insist,” says Sister Taylor, who leaps out of the van, then sprints across the parking lot toward the waiting minivan. “I’ll just grab my things out of the van when we get there,” she calls back to us.
Mom hesitates for a second, then joins us.
“It’s lovely to have you with us, Joyce,” Sister Kaye says in a low, friendly voice.
Then we’re off. The drive to Camp Hunt takes about two-and-a-half hours. At first everybody sings and talks and shouts, but the van grows quiet after a while and I realize people are piping down so they can listen to the stories Mom is telling Sister Kaye. She’s talking about the year she lived in Europe when she was 19. Right now she’s telling a story that even I haven’t heard before.
Everyone is fascinated.
“I didn’t know your mom lived in Europe,” Amy whispers in my ear. “That’s so exciting.”
“Welcome! Welcome!” Sister Kaye says after everyone has dribbled into camp. “I’d like to take a few minutes for orientation.”
Sister Kaye breezes through the camp rules quickly, then reminds us of our candlelight values hike later that night. “There will be ward skits tomorrow night, and testimony meeting the next night.”
I cringe a little. To tell you the truth, I don’t really like the testimony part of camp. It’s not that I don’t have a testimony. It’s just that when there are 200 people in a group and they all stand up, there’s just a little bit of pressure on you to do the same thing no matter how you’re feeling inside.
“And now,” Sister Kaye continues, “it gives me great pleasure to introduce my two assistants—Sister Sheila Taylor and Sister Joyce Evans.”
Sister Kaye pulls down a big quilt hanging like a curtain from a tree limb to reveal my mother wearing my dad’s shirt, sitting at a card table covered with cosmetics. Sister Taylor is crouched and hidden behind Mom with her arms stuffed through Dad’s huge sleeves.
“Time to get ready for camp!” Mom trills in her best stage voice. “Maybe I’ll start by taking a look in the mirror.”
Sister Taylor’s hands fumble around the table, sending bottles of perfume and tubes of lipstick flying. Well, it goes on like this for a while, but here’s a newsflash on what happens. Mom hams! Girls go wild! I fake a smile.
That’s the way things have been ever since we got here. Every time I turn around, Mom’s right there, being funny and chummy—everybody’s best pal.
I don’t know what’s gotten into her.
At home she’s always nice to my friends, but she doesn’t sit down for heart-to-heart chats with them. She doesn’t run around home playing practical jokes on Dad and my brothers, either. Up here, however, she’s turned into a regular maniac. Now and then I can tell she’s trying to catch my eye to see if everything’s okay with me. So what am I supposed to do? Lie?
I don’t want to feel this way, but things are definitely not okay with me. I can’t explain it, but I just wish she weren’t here. Do you think that makes me a terrible person?
Mom tries to get my attention as we all file into the outdoor amphitheater for tonight’s skits.
“Wendy,” she calls and waves.
I give her a little wave back, then sit on the front row between Melissa and Amy.
Our skit, which Amy and I wrote, goes pretty well, I think. I’m just glad we go first so I can sit back and relax while the other wards perform. Everything’s great until it’s the stake leaders’ turn. Sister Kaye, Sister Taylor, and Mom wander out onto the stage dressed like that old singing trio, the Supremes, and start singing this truly stupid song about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in breathy voices.
Everybody else seems to think it’s funny, but I feel the back of my neck go hot.
Singing’s bad enough, I say to her in my head. Please just please don’t dance in front of all my friends.
Before I know it, Mom’s flipping her feather boa all over the place.
I can’t stand this. Not another minute of it.
“Pea-nut,” Mom gushes, “Pea-nut buttuh!”
Sister Kaye and Sister Taylor back her up. “And jelly! And jelly!”
Before I can stop myself, I’m on my feet. I look straight at Mom. And then I run, stumbling over startled girls as I go.
I head for the road leading out of camp, and by the time I get there, I already start to feel dumb. You know how it is when you’re mad—you feel completely justified. And then once you start to calm down, you realize what a complete idiot you’ve just made of yourself.
A single hot tear slides slowly down my cheek.
I don’t know how long I’ve been gone—it feels like forever. Amy and Melissa are in our tent when I get back. They grow quiet when I crawl inside. And they don’t look at me either.
“Hey there,” I say.
“Hi, Wendy,” Melissa says in a flat voice.
I plop down on my sleeping bag. “How’d the rest of the show go?”
“Did, did my mom come looking for me?” My voice quivers a little.
“No,” says Melissa, “she didn’t.”
More silence, then Amy finally speaks up. “You really shouldn’t have done it, Wendy.”
I start crying all over again. Amy and Melissa look at each other, then slide next to me and drape their arms over my shoulders.
“It’s going to be okay,” Melissa soothes.
“Honest,” says Amy.
I take a deep breath, give them both one last squeeze, then draw back.
“I’ll go find her in the morning,” I tell them. Crying gives me a headache, but I manage to go to sleep.
As it turns out, the first person I find in the morning is not Mom but Sister Kaye. She’s walking from the mess tent toward the stake leaders’ tent. I’d give anything if I didn’t have to face Sister Kaye right now.
“Wendy?” At least her voice is friendly.
“Hi, Sister Kaye.”
She steps toward me and gives me a big hug. “I don’t know what I’d do without you or your mother. You’re both terrific in your own ways, you know? You, you’re so supportive of everything I do, so helpful and eager to learn. And your mother, she can rally a group around her like nobody else. I needed her so much for that. She’s a real star.”
I know, I want to say. That’s part of the problem.
“Do you know where my mom is now?” I ask.
“I just left her alone in the mess tent.”
“Thank you,” I whisper.
Mom greets me with chilly eyes when I join her there. She’s sitting at an empty table.
“Here you are!” I say in a cheerful, fake voice.
“Yes,” she agrees crisply. “Here I am.”
I take the seat next to her and notice that she doesn’t even look up. I search for the right words and the right way to say them. But before I can open my mouth, Mom stares straight at me.
“Sometimes,” she says in a high clear voice, “you can be a perfect little brat.”
Then she gets up and walks out.
Remember how I told you Mom isn’t like me—that she doesn’t get mad?
Well, guess what. She’s plenty mad right now. At me. Even after a good night’s rest.
All day long she’s gone out of her way not to look at me. And if by chance we’ve happened to make eye contact, she’s given me the kind of brief, polite smile strangers give one another.
My stomach is rolling, and I don’t know how I’m going to make it through testimony meeting. I’m supposed to be helping build the bonfire, but I can’t go. Not until I’ve fixed things with Mom. Not until I’ve apologized.
I left a note in her tent. “Mom, please meet me at 8:00 in the clearing near the camp entrance. Wendy.”
Right now I’m sitting on a log, waiting and wondering if she’ll even come.
I practically leap out of my hiking boots. It’s Mom, coming up behind me.
“Mind if I sit down next to you?” she asks.
I scoot over, making room for her, and she joins me on the log. Neither of us says anything for a minute. We just sit there, listening to the wind sing through the tops of the trees.
“I’m so sorry about last night,” I blurt out, tears jumping to my eyes.
“Oh, honey,” she sighs. “We need to talk, don’t we?”
Mom slips an arm around my shoulder and pulls me close. I don’t resist at all. “It’s just that last night when you stood up and stared at me, then ran off in front of everybody, I felt so hurt. You embarrassed me, Wendy.”
“You embarrassed me too,” I say in a tiny voice.
Mom looks truly surprised. “How?”
I shrug. How can I explain it to her without hurting her feelings. How can I tell her it’s tough being the daughter of the camp star, especially when the camp star doesn’t even like to camp?
“I embarrass you because I’m your mother?”
Miserably, I nod.
She sits still for a moment, then laughs softly. “You know, when I was your age, everybody always used to tell me how much I looked like your grandmother. Well, she was an enormously good-looking woman, and if I’d had a fifth of her looks, I should have turned cartwheels of joy on our front lawn. But instead I practically died whenever somebody said we looked alike. I wanted …” She cast about for the right word.
“Space,” I fill in the blank for her. I think I understand now. I think I know why I’ve been acting the way I have.
Mom blinks at me, then smiles like I have given an unexpectedly brilliant answer.
“Yes, space. Space to be just you. I’d forgotten all about that,” she adds, almost as an afterthought.
It’s starting to get dark, and any minute now the testimony meeting will begin.
“To tell you the truth, Wendy, I really didn’t want to come here at all. I didn’t want to leave Dad. I didn’t want to sleep in a tent with a bunch of women. I didn’t want to hear Sister Taylor say the word special.”
I burst out laughing, and this time Mom gives me a full-court grin.
“And quite frankly,” she lets out a long, deep sigh, “I didn’t want to feel pressured into bearing my testimony in front of a group of people I don’t know.”
Mom doesn’t want to bear her testimony either? Imagine the two of us having a thing like that in common.
“You’ve done pretty well for someone who doesn’t want to be here,” I point out, not even feeling resentful.
“Well,” she shrugs, “I figured since I was here, I might as well get into the spirit of the thing. Besides, it’s been fun.”
The moon is just beginning to crest. It’s huge and gold, and it begins to rise like some great bird.
“Look at that,” Mom breathes. “Have you ever seen a more gorgeous moon in your entire life?”
I shake my head. Together we sit and watch it climb the sky.
“Maybe we ought to join the others,” Mom says finally, her voice laced with regret. She stands and stretches. “Come on, kid.”
I get up and shake the stiffness out of my knees.
“Fine,” I say, “but you have to walk ten feet behind me.”
She throws back her head and roars out a laugh.
The sound of it plays like music through the evening air.