I think I will send my son to Congress for the summer. There, he could learn how to stage photo opportunities, vote one minute to support the president's budget and the next day to gut it and, when it comes to Nicaragua, deal with it always with the touching innocence of a summer romance.

The latest person to send Congress a Dear John letter was none other than Daniel Ortega himself. The president of Nicaragua ran off to Moscow just after the House of Representatives voted to give his enemy, the contras, nothing -- not $14 million of any kind of aid, lethal or nonlethal. Some in Congress thought the Moscow trip was no way for Ortega to show his gratitude. "He embarrassed us, to be perfectly truthful," said House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill.

Poor Tip. But where, exactly, did O'Neill and the rest of Congress think Ortega would go? Moslems go to Mecca, Catholics to Rome, Jews to Israel and Marxists to Moscow. It is not for nothing that portraits of Karl Marx grace the public buildings of Nicaragua.

But so what? Ortega did not come back from Moscow with missiles capable of reaching Tampa, Fla. He did not get MiGs. He got, instead, something like $200 million in assistance from probably the only county that will offer it -- the Soviet Union.

Have pity on these members of Congress. Like most of their colleagues, they tend to see the United States and Congress as the center of the universe. Just as some congressmen think the United States ought to be able to dictate what sort of government Nicaragua will have, others think the Sandinistas ought to at least pretend to be something other than uppity Marxists while they're being discussed on the floor. This is Congress at its self-centered worst. Aid to the contras should have been rejected as a matter of principle -- because we do not topple obnoxious governments -- regardless of Ortega's travel plans.

The problem is that both sides in the congressional debate on Nicaragua want to turn the Sandinistas into something they either never were or have no intention of being. Some want them to be liberals in fatigues while others insist they are bitter-end communists with an allegiance to Moscow that transcends anything else. Even the contras have been brushed with the same fairy dust. They have been called "freedom fighters" by the president who, in a moment of epic bad taste, sainted them with the three-cornered hats of the Founding Fathers. Almost no one wants to deal with the situation as it is.

But the contras ain't freedom fighters, and the Sandinistas ain't members of the National Organization for Women. Whatever the Sandinistas are, however, is what they have a sovereign right to be. It's a right we ought to respect unless the Sandinistas endanger our security. They are a long way from that.

If Daniel Ortega embarrassed Congress, it was only because Congress, in its perpetual adolescence, longed for him to be something he's not -- always dependent. Ortega went to Moscow for reasons having nothing to do with Congress. He went for aid. He went because he's a Marxist. But he went also because the contra aid bill was no longer before Congress, and it was time to move on. The summer, in effect, was over.