A Daughterly Transition
By Tony Kornheiser, The Washington Post, Sunday, July 7 1996
My daughter left for camp last week. She's 13. She is in the middle of
what they call the "awkward age" for girls. It's an age where girls are
under hormonal attack and tend to fly off the handle at the slightest
thing. For example, my daughter recently burst into tears at the sight
of me opening up a can of V8 juice. Some of her friends had just sworn
off meats and fish to protest animals being killed for food. My
daughter must have felt some peer pressure, since she said, accusingly:
"Do you realize how many vegetables have to die for you to quench your
The "awkward age" begins at 10, and lasts approximately until the end of
I was pleased for the opportunity to drive my daughter to the bus stop
because I wanted to talk with her about camp. I loved camp -- I went
for 15 summers -- and I wanted to tell her about what camp was like when
I went, back in what she likes to call "the olden days."
She was very enthusiastic about spending this quality time with her good
And by that I mean she agreed to sit in the car -- provided none of her
friends actually saw her in the car with her father; that would be so
embarrassing. I suggested she could lie down in the back seat, and I
would drop a blanket over her, and she could pretend she was President
I think the dilemma of being a 13-year-old girl is best summed up by a
book I've heard about, titled something like "I Hate You and I Wish You
Would Die, but First Can You Drive Me to the Mall?"
Anyway, she sat in the car with me and listened as I yammered on and on
about camp and how great it was. I went to Camp Keeyumah in
northeastern Pennsylvania. So many of the camps used Indian words, like
"Lohikan" and "Chen-A-Wanda." The owners wisely chose to name the camps
after Indians rather than after themselves, sparing us names like Camp
Krefsky and Camp Mermelstein.
My parents sent me onto the bus with a canteen and a flashlight; none of
the kids was even allowed to bring a transistor radio. We were supposed
to be "roughing it." The function of camp (other than enabling your
parents to finally have sex) was to teach you how to get along without
material possessions. Nowadays, kids take so much stuff they should be
met at the camp by redcaps. The girls in my daughter's bunk have
Walkmans, Discmans, Watchmans, computers, microwaves. Their idea of
roughing it is doing without speed dial.
When I was 13, I looked forward to the twice-a-week socials with the
girls' camp. We always knew when it was a social night, because we'd
see the girls walk to the mess hall with their hair rolled high in
curlers and covered with rubberized shower caps that were attached by
nozzles to portable hair dryers the size of a briefcase. The air would
flow in, the shower cap would fill up, and the girl's head would look
like a balloon ready to take off over the English Channel for France.
Each time I see one of those "photos" in the Star or Enquirer of a
bulb-headed alien landing on the White House lawn, I think of Camp
Keeyumah girls on social nights.
On these nights, we boys doused ourselves in Aqua Velva; Red Adair
didn't use this much spray to cap the oil fires in Kuwait. Aqua Velva
is so strong that when we put it on in the summer of 1961, Yuri Gagarin
could have smelled us. What a sight we must have been, with our Ricky
Nelson spit curls and fuzzy mohair sweaters, reeking like French whores,
deliberately counting out the one-two-three of the box step as we
slow-danced with the girls and tried to breathe furtively into their
ears the way our counselors taught us.
I told my daughter all this, and I know she was hanging on my every
word, because she said: "Could you turn on the radio?"
How about oldies, I said.
"No oldies," she said. "Oldies are for babies."
Just six months ago she loved oldies. Oldies are my music; I felt so
connected to her when she gleefully sang along with the Beach Boys.
I saw a change coming a couple of months back when my daughter started
singing along with Coolio. Coolio is a rapper whose hair is done in
braids that look like the rabbit ears on a 1962 Magnavox.
"You know this song?" I asked her, incredulous.
"Yeah, it's great," she said.
I listened all the way through, and I couldn't understand much. I
thought I heard somebody rhyme "is everybody happy" with "Moammar
Gadhafi." And I recalled how in "Eve of Destruction" Barry McGuire
rhymed "My blood's so mad, feels like coagulatin' " with "I'm sitting
here just contemplatin'." At the time I thought it was brilliant, and I
was upset when my father heard it and snickered.
That's how kids begin to separate from their parents -- through music.
The first time I saw Jerry Lee Lewis standing over the piano, shaking
his behind and his blond hair, I knew he was for me, and my parents
could have Eddie Fisher. Coolio was her Jerry Lee. Coolio! What would
she listen to when she was my age, classic rap?
I thought of that as my daughter fiddled with the car radio, trying to
find hip-hop as we drove to the place where the bus would pick her up
for camp. Eight weeks of summer would pass until I saw her again. Did
they even have socials where she was going? Did the boys still smother
themselves in cologne?
"Is it okay if you kiss me goodbye in the car, Dad?" my daughter said
with some hesitancy. "Not right by the bus? It's not that I don't love
you, it's, uh..."
© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company
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