A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of taking my daughter, Brianna, to the International Music Camp at the Peace Gardens. I can describe this whole trip in two words, pure joy. We started off on a Sunday morning. I was extremely bleary-eyed having worked until 1:30 that morning. I was printing deer tags if you must know. Why I was doing this in the middle of the night in the middle of a weekend, with severe thunderstorm and flash flood warnings coming down from the North is a whole different blog story which may or may not be published. (I'm running about 3 blogs behind right now)
I live about 3 miles North of Mandan and it seemed foolish to drive South, then East, then finally North on Highway 83 up to Minot. So I took a somewhat meandering route North straight from our house and crossed the Missouri at Washburn, ND. I will forever take this route from now on. It is much more scenic and interesting and shaves off about 11 miles from my total travel distance.
I stopped at the first C-store I came across for the largest cup of coffee they had. Thus fortified, I continued the trip in earnest. Brianna crashed shortly after disembarking and I glanced at her wistfully every so often while trying to keep my own eyes open. In my opinion, kids are at their most beautiful state when they are sleeping. I felt this way when my kids were infants and I still feel this way though my oldest is now 13. There is just something about a sleeping child that reminds me all is well with the world.
Sleeping beauty woke up just as I made the turn North at Washburn to pick up Highway 83 to Minot. She was startled and commented she didn't remember seeing that on her last trip. (This was to be Brianna's 2nd week of band camp. She had just got back a week ago for her flute and was now going up again with her tenor sax.) I asked if she'd ever seen Washburn? I knew for a fact I was on the same road she took both coming and going for the last trip. She shook her head and I said she had probably been asleep then too. She nodded in the affirmative and continued to look around as if we had just landed on Mars. It takes my daughter awhile to wake up. Her eyes might be open, but that doesn't always mean she's fully awake.
I realized I had now been given a special moment. Father-daughter alone time. This is a very rare treasure. Sadly these times don't come very often. Usually when they do, we don't take advantage of them. I wanted to catch up on how her life was going. Usually conversations like this are classified as "girl-talk" and my wife is the only one privy to the secret discussions that take place. I asked her if she was excited about band camp. "Oh waaaaay!," she exclaims and that's all I had to say to facilitate miles worth of chatter about the friends she met the last time and was hoping to meet this time, what her teachers were going to be like. The various social events that take place, the "chores" that they are given throughout the week. It's not all about music as campers are expected to help with clean-up and maintenance throughout the week as well.
I sensed a lull in the proceedings and very carefully broached another subject I was extremely interested in hearing her take on. Boys. I asked about her friends at school. That was all that took. She immediately took off on several more miles of chatter about the various antics her friends had been up to at school, recent events on her myspace page, and was still in full flow when we finally stopped in Rugby for lunch.
Call me crazy, but I have this obsession with the Hot Stuff pizzas at Cenex. For some reason, they really tickle my taste buds. I know Brianna's favorite food in the known universe is cheese pizza of any kind. I asked if she wanted to go to the Cornerstone Cafe. (geographical center of North America dontcha know?) for a sit-down dinner, but I knew what she would say. "NO!!!" evidently she had a bad experience there on her first trip.
So we went into Cenex and got another large coffee and supreme personal pan for me and a large Diet Mt. Dew and cheese personal pan for my now wide awake daughter. We ate in the car. Don't ask me why we didn't sit at the tables conveniently located in the air-conditioned store. I probably wasn't fully awake either or else was severely into a caffeine buzz and wasn't thinking quite clearly.
"G&*#$D P#&&$*#A!!!" mumbled Brianna through a mouthful of gooey cheese. I'm not kidding you can bite into these things and stretch the piece all the way out to arms length without breaking the strand of melted goodness. Translated I believe she said, "Good Pizza!"
Yes, I quite agree. I didn't need to, but I asked anyway, just to see her expression if this was better than the cafe. "WAAAAAYYY!" as if that was the most ridiculous question ever asked.
We finished our delicious lunch, wiped the grease off our faces and proceeded to Dunseith, the US-Canada border and the Peace Gardens. Again, a very enjoyable trip. For some strange reason, traveling North and South across North Dakota is so much more interesting than traveling East and West. I don't know why. Maybe it was just the pleasurable company, but it was such an enjoyable trip I really can't describe it.
Brianna was getting more excited the closer we got. She actually screeched when we passed the big sign proclaiming International Music Camp straight ahead. She loves this camp. She had so much fun the first week and I would later find out the 2nd week was even better. She assured us she will now be attending camp every year as long as she is able.
I don't mess around when I'm driving somewhere. I try never to exceed 5 miles above the posted limit, but I rarely drive under the limit either. We did save time during lunch but whatever the reason we got to band camp plenty early. A full hour and a half before they opened the registration doors. I briefly thought about the hour of sleep I could have had and started towards the building thinking just maybe they'd let us check in early.
Yeah right. The first door I tried was locked solid. Not to be outdone I meandered around the building and went in the back. The door opened and I received a glare that could have solidified concrete from some poor kid sweeping the floor. I very meekly asked if there was any way we could register now. More glare and a terse reply, "Registration starts at one!"
I mumbled an apology and bowed myself out the door. I heard the tell tale click of the lock from the now closed door behind me and went back to the vehicle. It was starting to get rather warm so I opened the windows and reclined the seat for some more shut-eye.
It seemed I had only just drifted off when Brianna shrieked again. "There's Marcy!" Her voice can be extremely loud when she wants it to be. After I recovered from my very abrupt seizure into the waking world I looked over to see another van drive up with one of Brianna's friends in it. Both girls burst from their respective vehicles and after the required hugs went into the totally awesome time everyone would have at camp. I had already met Marcy's mom but this was the first time meeting the dad so I introduced myself and tried to make small talk while everyone was waiting.
Marcy has very interesting parents so we had an enjoyable time talking about children and work and parenting. Marcy's mom noticed a line of people walking toward the registration building and suggested we get in line. It was still about a 40 minute wait until the doors opened but I was warned that this line gets very long in a very short period of time. The parking lot had indeed started to fill up as people began to arrive with their children.
We beat a hasty exodus to the building and snagged a prime spot about 6 people back but still under the shaded overhang of the building. It had grown from warm to almost scorching hot by this time so the shaded area was very welcome. I really felt sorry for all the people that had to wait an hour in that hot sun.
We continued more pleasant conversation and were finally let into the building. Having been through this process once before, Brianna was an expert and led me along like a dog on a leash. I humbly followed, signing things and nodding my head when necessary. Deanna, my wife, had prepaid everything 2 weeks before so I had receipts in hand and our process was very streamlined compared to the people doing this the first time.
It's quite an assembly line. You come in, give the camper's name to the person at the computer. They check it out on the screen and fill out a paper card. The camper proceeds to the name tags and finds their name hanging on the carousel. Brianna was still wearing her badge from the last camp. I asked her why. Apparently it's quite the style for kids to wear all their badges from that year. Some kids are back for their 3rd, 4th, or more weeks and having several of these badges seems to be something of a status symbol. Whatever, I say...
Then we go to the next station and hand the card over from the first station and get the room and dorm assignment. Brianna grabs this and crams it into her pocket. They offer us a map and Brianna tells them she doesn't need it. I say, "wait a minute, I'll take it!" I'm kind of a map freak, and Brianna has gotten me lost before so I wasn't taking any chances.
Then we go to the med station and turn over Brianna's inhalers and pain medication for any health situations that might arise, then go to the bank station and deposit her spending money for the week. Then, finally, we burst through the exit door. My head was still spinning from the experience. This camp has gone on for a number of years and they process several hundred kids each week so they've got it down to a science and have people standing by to direct stragglers who seem to be lost or misdirected.
We waited for Marcy and family and then made our way to the gift shop. This was strictly the females choice of destinations. I was thinking why don't we unload all her gear at the dorm, then, thus unencumbered, could visit the other areas of necessity. Thankfully I wasn't dragging luggage and a saxophone all over camp. We left that in the vehicle. I still had to walk all the way back across camp to get the luggage and then back again to deposit it in the dorm. If we would have gone to the dorms first it would have saved one round-trip through the camp. But I didn't even get a chance to vote. The girls were going to the gift shop and I could wait in the car if I had to. No thanks.
I need to have a discussion with this girl about money. She got a sum total of $100 spending money that was to last a whole week. Wisely, the camp doesn't like them carrying around large sums of money so they have this "bank" from which they withdraw small amounts of pocket money as needed. We had deposited $80 and she was carrying a twenty dollar bill. What's the first thing she does? She pulls down a $35 sweatshirt way too large for her and gets in line at the cash register.
I decided to make this a teaching moment and said nothing as she waited patiently in line chatting with her friend and grabbed an IMC button to pin to her lanyard from which now dangled 2, count them, 2 badges signifying her 2nd week at camp. The cashier said $37 please. Brianna looks at me almost nonchalantly asking, "Dad, you got 17 bucks?"
Ah no, I most certainly do not. I stopped carrying cash years ago and use plastic exclusively except for the occasional paper check once in awhile. So, her face a little pinker now, Brianna says she'll just take the button please and I'll put the sweatshirt back. I didn't launch into the extensive lecture I would have if we were alone, but since she had her friends with her I took it easy on her and said she only had $100 and she would not be getting any more and it probably wasn't the best decision to spend over a third of it after being in camp not even 2 hours.
One thing that really upset me was that they were charging people paying in Canadian money 10% more. Fine, that was roughly the exchange rate, but get this. Brianna paid in American and received change in an American-Canadian mix of money. Do you think they gave her 10% more for the Canadian portion? No sir. I felt like stomping up to that cashier and demanding she get another 50 cents for the Canadian five dollars or someone would hear about it. But I bit my tongue, it was after all, only 50 cents. But little things like that really get to me. See my previous blog on colors, it must have been my "Gold" personality shining through.
We finally left the gift shop, trudged back to the car, got the gear, trudged back again to the dorms and unloaded Brianna in her room. She got a brief shock when she realized the roommate she had signed up with was not her roommate but some other girl looking scared as all get out at what was obviously her first week of camp. Her father's personality could not have been more different. He had to have been a used-car or insurance salesman, or perhaps a politician. You know the type. Loud, overly-friendly, talkative, shakes hands with any and all people within reach. He immediately throttles Brianna's hand and introduces himself, then squeezes the lifeblood out of mine. His poor daughter hasn't moved or said a word and has the glazed, "deer in the headlights" look. For more reference, see "deer me" blog.
One of the dorm advisers yelled everyone needed to come to the lobby for the briefing. This must have been taken right of army boot camp. The speaker sounded just like a drill instructor, no perfume, no video games, no cell phones, yes you will take your shoes off at the door. I smiled in grim satisfaction along with several other dads that were eating this up. I love rules, again, see more about my gold personality here.
Brianna's friend, Marcy, isn't so fond of rules. She now has the "deer in the headlights" look, eyes as big as saucers. Brianna whispers, "they're very strict here." Marcy just nods her head.
Finally, all good things must end. I got Brianna settled, she was looking at me like I was beginning to overstay my welcome. I gave her a hug and a kiss and told her to have a great time.
I headed for the door a bit misty-eyed. It is difficult watching your kids grow up. I couldn't help but think about what it would be like sending her off to college or off to her new home with a new husband. But we mustn't get ahead of ourselves. Hopefully those goodbyes are a few years away yet.
This got to be way too long so stay tuned for part 2 about my trip to the Peace Gardens.