Letter to Camille: The Good, The Bad, and The Puppy

Hello sweet girl – it’s been a while, huh? I’ve started and stopped several letters to you over the last few months, but each time I try to find the right words to describe what it’s like to be here and now in 2020, I freeze.

This is the most bizarre, unsettling, and frustrating time.

We are healthy. Our immediate family members are healthy. We have food in the pantry and a roof over our heads. We can buy the things we need and some of the things we want. We like each other. These are good things. These are wonderful things.

But these things are set in a personal and national context of persistent suffering and fear and uncertainty. When I first wrote to you about the pandemic back in May, I hadn’t really let myself think this far ahead. We were focused on the end of your 8th grade year, the survival of two small businesses, grieving the loss of our summer plans, and – above all – trying to stay healthy. But I didn’t let myself think too much about the fall and beyond. I held on to some hope that we’d be through the worst of it by then.

Initially, the government asked us all to quarantine for 15 days to slow to spread of the epidemic. Those 15 days loomed large at first, but it soon became apparent that this crisis would not be over in 15 days. Now, almost 10 months later, hundreds of thousands of people are dying and we are still stuck in survival mode.

We are alive. We are well. But we miss people. We miss dinner parties and sleepovers and vacations and church services and school. We miss family get-togethers. We miss going to the movies and restaurants. I especially miss hugging people.

As spring dragged into summer and then fall, we began making choices – not just us, but everyone around us. If this pandemic would be with us for a long while, what risks were we willing to take? How would we respond to this new reality?

That, too, led to stress and misery. And anger and judgement. To wear a mask or no? To see family and friends or no? In-person school or no? People took sides and pointed fingers in every direction – us included.

And always at the heart of these decisions – how can we keep our people safe while also keeping ourselves sane? What little joys can we give ourselves without risking the lives of the people we love?

And we have found some joy, and these joys should be chronicled, too.

As cases surged in the summer, we had to cancel your plan to be a counselor at the local theater camp. As a compromise and to give you a change of scenery and time with cousins, your sweet Aunt and Uncle took you in for a little while, meeting us halfway between Savannah and Boston twice to make the exchange.


Uncle Dave earned extra bonus points on his portion of the long road trip, making a detour through NYC just for you. You’re absolutely obsessed with that city and were starving to see it, and he parked just long enough for you to jump out of the car for a couple of pics on Broadway with Jones.

For your 14th birthday, there were no trips or parties, but we booked a horseback ride with a local farm and your BFF Lola got to ride, too. Horses make for good social distancers and it was a fun day.

In mid-summer, with all travel curbed for the foreseeable future, we focused our wanderlust closer to home and took on a bit of a project. We bought an old river cabin out in the country to renovate as a weekend getaway. You have some mixed feelings about this place – you feel like there’s nothing to do here, which for us is exactly the point. “I don’t get why you like to just stare at the trees…” you say. You’ll get it when you’re old like your ma and pa.

But in the heat of the summer, the river is also a great playground with lots more to do than tree-gazing, and we had a great time playing together.

There was a gap in our trips to the river house during the height of renovations, so when we brought you to the river last weekend it was your first visit in a while. It was too chilly to swim, and you came along begrudgingly.

We pulled up the gravel and dirt driveway and parked in front of the house to unload. As we hauled things out of the car, a little black and white dog came from nowhere, belly-crawling its way to you. At first we thought it was injured as it slithered along the ground toward you – why wasn’t it standing up? Maybe its back legs didn’t work? But once you laid a friendly hand on the dog’s head and spoke kindly to it, the dog stood up and pressed herself to your body, trying to close any distance between the two of you.

And that’s how things stayed throughout the weekend. We didn’t allow her (or her many fleas) inside the house, but if you were outside she was in your lap or pressed against your legs.

This area has a ton of loose dogs – I’m not sure if they’re owned or stray or some feral mix of the two. I figured this pup would eventually wander away just as she had wandered here. But both nights, despite chilly temperatures, she slept on the front porch of the cabin and greeted you ecstatically each morning. You named her Lucy that very first day, and began a two-day-long plea to bring her home.

Initially, we had no intention of acquiescing. We have a dog. You have a bearded dragon. This is an argument we’ve been having for months, ever since several of your friends took in “pandemic pets” of their own. The timing has appeal, with so many of us homebound and isolated, and you’d been applying a lot of pressure for a new pet. And we’d done a lot of resisting.

But it’s one thing to resist the idea of a new pet. And it’s another thing to see a pet fall completely in love with your daughter, and vice versa. We had many discussions about responsibilities and expectations, and finally came to an agreement. If Lucy was still at the house Sunday morning, you’d have to go around to the neighbors and inquire about her owners. But if no one claimed her, you could take her home.

And so it was Sunday afternoon, she piled nervously into the car with us to leave the river cabin and come home. My guess is that she has never been an inside dog – she has to be coaxed through doorways and into vehicles, as though she’s sure she can’t possibly belong inside. But once she crosses the threshold, she loves nothing better than to be in a warm lap – preferably yours.

We’ve had Lucy for a week now and so far she is fitting in beautifully. She sleeps in your bed at night, she seems to understand the rules of housebreaking, and she and Chance tolerate each other (which is good enough for now). She’s as quiet as a church mouse and sweet as sugar, and you’re doing an excellent job caring for her.

Sure, there is plenty to complain about right now, and the weight of it all feels heavy at times. But I’m grateful for these light moments too, and very, very grateful for you. I love you so much, sweet girl.

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