Our oldest child, Karen, was 12 when she went to sleep-away camp for the first time. Understandably she was nervous about normal things -- did she have the right wardrobe, will she make friends, will she throw up? As first-time parents we worried about everything too -- will the bus crash on the way up, did they know she was coming, did they know camp was starting today? We even called the camp to make sure the bus arrived. We have since been informed never to do that because it is so-o-o-o embarrassing.

We nervously waited for the first letter with details on who was in her bunk, what her day was like, her counselors, etc. We got it two days before visiting day: "I have to write this letter to get into dinner. Love Karen. P.S. When you come up bring marshmallow fluff, a fan, lots of junk food, cereal, and shaving cream." Shaving Cream? My daughter starting to shave her legs? No -- it was for balloon fights.

My husband and I were first in line on Visiting Day due to a shared childhood trauma -- parents who were always late for visiting day. You've seen the picture -- the pathetic child waiting at the camp for his parents (the ones driving an older model car, at 25 miles per hour). Well, we certainly were not going to be our parents. We were going to arrive on time and stay until the bitter end.

If you have teenage children when do you spend seven uninterrupted hours just talking? Doesn't happen in my family without a telephone or TV. When we arrived, the first hour was spent hugging, unloading the trunk with lunch and the shopping list items, walking four miles to the bunk where 12 girls share one room and two bathrooms. We then packed the clothes that were just "not right" and met the counselor. It was 11 a.m. Only six more hours to fill.

Okay we can do this . . . let's eat lunch! It is amazing how many families can eat lunch at 11 in the morning out of sheer boredom. We set out our picnic and my daughter took off to talk to some of her friends -- the same girls she spends day and night with. That's all right because it kills another hour. Now it's noon . . . only five more hours.

The main visiting-day activity is shopping. Kids go up to camp and find they forgot "stuff." Near every camp is a shopping center with a local supermarket store, like Kmart. So the entire camp, and parents and siblings, converge on this little supermarket to buy important "stuff" -- cereal, cookies, film, socks, pocket T-shirts, batteries and a cold soda.

Back to camp. It's now 2 o'clock and we have nothing more to talk about. We spread out the blanket and pray that we fall asleep like the old people we have become. Once again our daughter is off chasing the girls she spends day and night with.

At 4 o'clock we beg off the last hour by reminding Karen we have to leave early because of the long trip back home. In the parking lot, we meet half the parents, all using the same excuse (the other half left at 2). There was a smile on everyone's face as they drove out of camp, not out of joy for spending time with their child, but out of relief.