Turns out March is the month to sign up for summer camp. I learned this while having lunch at a better mom’s house. She mentioned camp, I asked when do we have to get that sorted out?, and she reached behind her phone and produced a manilla file folder--stuffed with brochures, a marked up calendar, the works.
Within a week I seemed set (having inherited many of the aforementioned brochures). I put Amos in a two-week program in Soho and, after much deliberating about dates on the phone with the head of a drama camp, I decided that Etta would do week #4 of drama--in addition to a week at the Aquarium.
At school I became one of the only moms who could boast of a spot in the coveted week #4. A few early birds had their kids there--including some neighbors we could carpool with...but by the time I was announcing she was doing week #4 it was full up and no new moms could get their kids in. How lucky were we?
In June I started to fill out the obligatory forms. Release, consent, important numbers, doctor stuff, sign here--sign there...Checklists arrived in the mail and, ultra-organized, I magnetted them to the fridge.
Soho summer camp went well as did Etta’s fish-finding week in Coney Island. Then on Sunday night I called my neighbor to finalize the carpool arrangements for the morning--the first morning week #4. She mentioned an elaborate list of items that her daughter was bringing. I was stumped. I’d filled out Aquarium stuff--poured more details than you’d think a 6 year old would have onto paper--but here on drama camp eve, I couldn’t place my hands on the drama stuff.
After the kids went to bed I set about finding proof that I’d enrolled Etta in this drama camp at all. E-mails? Nothing after an initial query. Credit card statements? Nothing. Checks written to White Bird Productions? Nada.
I was sick of the lack of evidence and also at the helplessness of the timing of the discovery. There wouldn’t even be time to call in the morning--the woman would be at the registration desk already--handing out color-coded name tags.
I tossed and turned all night. Was Etta about to suffer the greatest disappointment of her young life? Would this be her first crystal clear memory? Would she make careless decisions for the rest of her life that would all be traced back to this Monday morning? The one that hadn’t even happened yet?
“Mommy’s got to ride along this morning,” I explained all singsong like when Etta came down to breakfast. “I have to straighten some paperwork out.” She shrugged, not realizing what an expert job she’d done dressing herself--how important her decision to put on a white eyelet pinafore over a heather-prairie sundress with a matching white sun bonnet had been (I didn’t know she even had an outfit like this). She’d spent the day before wearing boys swimtrunks, unlaced at the top, with a white tank top that revealed hard-looking temporary tattoos. She’d had streaks of mud on her cheeks and she’d made all of us call her ‘Johnson.’ This morning’s outfit looked like something Lizzy Borden’s lawyers would have chosen for her trial. Sweetness and innocence personified. Hallelujah.
We piled into Betsy’s minivan. I had to bring Piper with us. The other little girls in the van looked like chosen ones--like the kids on the bleachers at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade who don’t realize how lucky they are that they didn’t have to fight for a spot on the curb at 5 am only to watch the backs of the performers who are really performing for the benefit of the kids on the bleachers.
Betsy said all the right things in the car on the way there. My stomach ached at the possibility that we’d be dropping her kids off, and returning with a dejected Etta. How would I make it ok? The ‘and they’ll tell two friends and they’ll tell two friends and so on, and so on, and so on...’ Breck commercial ran on a loop in my head. This would spread like wildfire. ‘Hey did you guys hear about Robin? Turns out three kids was too much for her to handle after all. Got Etta all the way to summer camp and learned that she hadn’t signed her up. Poor child, to have a mom like that.’ Throw in some brownie patches that I’d be unable to sew onto a sash and the picture would be complete.
The picnic house glimmered in the morning sunshine. Sounds of young-child happiness filled the place and spilled out into the surrounding hilltop. Cartoon blue birds flew in circles above the place and draped garlands of cartoon daisies from the gables. Etta and I approached the registration desk. I was carrying Piper on my hip.
The lady/owner-woman looked up at me and her face fell--”you look like you’re going to cry,” she said.
“I feel like I’m going to cry,” I answered (this was not my original plan).
“I searched all night but I can’t find proof that I ever signed Etta up for camp this week, even though it’s been in my calendar since April.” I managed.
The lady’s face turned dark. “Etta...[insert last name here]?”
“You never called me back. We talked about the dates on the phone, but you never registered her. She’s not signed up for this week.”
I should say right here that I hate the mom card. I hate the whole entitled/harried/pleading/but-this-is-a-special-case kind of mom thing. But I don’t ever turn it down when I stand to benefit. Drive-up service at stores all over Brooklyn? Just call from the car and say ‘the baby’s asleep but I’m right in front.’ Need faster service at a restaurant? Just point out that the kids are really hungry and imply that that’s a dangerous thing. Long line? It helps if you’re actually holding the baby, and it really helps if the baby’s arching her back and screaming.
It sickens me even while I’m taking advantage of it. But I did it.
Instead of apologizing and turning around to leave, I hitched Piper higher up on my hip (Erin Brockovich-style) and then turned and looked at Etta--whose cheeks were particularly rosy and whose eyes were particularly shiny--I looked at her long enough to make sure the lady had to look at her too. Then I looked back at the lady and said “well....” and made like I was going to ask something but didn’t.
She interrupted my non-question with a sigh.
“I’ll keep her,” she said.
“Wow thanks” I said. “Umm, should I fill out some forms or something?”
She handed me the forms and I dropped to my knees to start in on them. “I really appreciate this,” I said, letting Piper run off into the mix (her services were no longer needed). But the woman was done with me. Fed up. She turned to help the next mom in line.
The lady behind me inhaled deeply before launching into some sob story--in a perfectly devised tone that implied apology and superiority all at once--about some form she hadn’t filled out, some release she hadn’t signed, some complication she needed special help with.
And I hated her for it.
7 years ago