Being an astronaut must be a hoot. Imagine living up in space where there are literally no rules! You can float around wherever you want, never have to eat Brussel sprouts and essentially play video games to complete your missions. It would be a little like camp. Well, the good camps where no one is looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re finishing your vegetables and if you want to do archery for a half a day then just go for it. Showers? Nope. And you’re just hanging with your peeps, no parents in sight.
I understand the training to become an astronaut is pretty intense but so too is the build up to camp. When your kids are young they make you feel like the one night stay at Shady Pines half an hour from home, with 8 parent volunteers for 10 children, hot meals and a full bed in a cabin is akin to a month in the Gulag (look it up, it wasn’t good). On drop-off day your carpet is sopping wet with a flooded mixture of tears and drool, and small clumps have been torn out by powerful little hands and scattered throughout your living room. As they get older time away from home moves from punishment to reward. One night can stretch into three, then seven, fourteen if they’re gamers and a full month if they’ve drunk the Kool-aid.
At that stage the whole thing changes.
Full-monthers, and full-monthers in their last year ever of being a camper before moving into a staff roll, are camp zealots. They count down the days until they can escape the boredom and monotony of regular life and get back to where life is full and rich and fun all the time. Bags are packed weeks in advance, goal-setting is sharp and directed and the list of must-do’s is longer than an NBA centre’s arm. Indeed, were university and careers attacked with the same vigour and energy of camp agendas there would be no such thing as recessions and we’d have solved climate change, world hunger and rid the world of disease.
Full-monthers live out each day in a routine that would impress most global militaries in such close proximity to their cabin mates that personal possessions no longer have any meaning and personal space is to be found in the outdoor latrines, and even that isn’t always the case. Time is measured in euchre games, sloppy joes, biweekly showers and campfire stories. Yes there are rules but when they’re enforced by people other than your parents they don’t seem quite as suffocating nor as unreasonable.
Life is rich indeed.
Which makes reentry so damn unpleasant. A camper’s home and their parents haven’t changed, but they have. Boy-o-boy. The freedoms and laughter that are a way of life when bunking with 8 people your own age are gone, replaced instead with little brothers (no further embellishments needed), mothers who remind you to sit straight and fathers who can’t seem to stop asking you to put away the peanut butter. Honestly. The weight of expectations in the ebb and flow of living with a family are heavy.
Astronauts describe returning to earth as an out of body experience where everything feels cumbersome, sluggish and overbearing. Their bodies are pulled down by gravity to the point where their tongues and lips feel unwieldy. Moving is a literally a drag. Maybe what parents of kids who love camp so desperately need are a retired astronaut to handle the immersion back to home life. Someone who can say, “I understand” at a truly meaningful level. Someone who can relate to that feeling that what was once so normal can feel so foreign. Someone who gets the practicality and freedom that comes from not having to shower.
Sometimes, life can get heavy.