“All my Bags are Packed and I’m ready to go…”
The words from “Leaving on a Jet Plane” circle through my mind as I muddle through my daily tasks in these hours leading up to Mr. C’s departure. That song is what I sang as a kid getting ready to leave overnight camp and head back home from the woods. Now I softly sing the tune to myself as a parent on the other side, getting ready to send my child from home to the trees, the lake and the open sky.
Here come my tears. Again.
After spending the initial part of the summer trying to keep my 10-year-old firstborn child happy, engaged and fulfilled, I’m now in disbelief that he really is leaving for overnight camp.
So many questions race through my mind as I check the boxes off on his packing list:
- Will he be happy?
- Will he be homesick?
- Will he be both?
- How much will I miss him? A lot. I know that.
- How will it affect our family dynamic? Keep trying to imagine it, but just not sure.
- Will he write to me?
- Will he like camp?
- Will he make new friends? Real friends? Stay in touch, hang out with during the school year friends?
As all these thoughts course through my head, it’s amazing to me that I keep track of all he needs for these four weeks away. Yet somehow I stay so laser focused I achieve what I thought was the impossible. His bags are packed and zipped on Friday, and we’re not even leaving until Sunday!
Some people say that being prepared helps ease anxiety. The truth is nothing can ease my apprehension about this coming month.
Sunday arrives, and it’s time to load those zipped up bags into the car. Despite my preparations, I still have a last minute check list for the morning of departure. It includes making sure C knows how to put on a bottom sheet. Showing him this mundane task highlights a big reason behind sending him off for a month. Overnight camp is a privilege, but it’s also a place for him to gain independence and learn how to exist without the comforts of home. This rite of passage may be hard on me, but it is good for him.
Off We Go!
We fill the hour and a half drive with conversation about what most excites him for camp:
“Being away from home,” he says with a grin.
It’s a dagger to his mama’s heart. But I know not to take it too seriously. We all have our coping mechanisms in this situation. C’s has been to build up all the reasons he can’t wait to get away.
“How about activities? What do you plan to sign up for?” I try to steer our talk to more positive ground.
It works. He starts ticking off all the things he wants to try: Aqua park; roller hockey; movie making; kayaking.
I nod approvingly at all these choices. Not that my opinion matters so much these next four weeks.
Toward the end of our trip, we pull into a little stop called The Elegant Farmer, which is neither elegant nor a farm. The place is hopping with a mixture of locals and people from our own community, who also are grabbing lunch before they drop off their kids at camp.
I glance at the other parents whose faces I recognize to see if any of them feel what I’m experiencing. I know that none of them are in my boat: First time campers going away. Still, one mom admits to me that it is tough to see our little guys head to camp without us. She then mentions that her oldest will soon be off to college. Even I can admit that trumps overnight camp, and I’m left feeling silly for being so worked up over a four week excursion away from home.
“C’mon. Let’s go. I want to get to camp already,” C’s words interrupt my thoughts.
I look at his half eaten grilled cheese sandwich. “Don’t you want to eat anymore?” I ask.
“No. I’m done. I’m not hungry. I just want to go,” he replies.
I get it. Everything that I’m feeling, I know he’s feeling too. Only I can tell he’s genuinely eager at this point, and no longer as anxious. I’m grateful for this change of pace. We started off the summer with him only wanting to be with me. Somehow he sensed my lack of enthusiasm for his “Camp Mom” plan. It’s not that I didn’t want to spend time with him. It’s just that I was concerned he would get bored, I would get frusturated, and then no one would be happy. Somehow we proved me wrong. “Camp Mom” ended up going smoothly, and even turned out to be fun.
We logged time at the Museum of Science and Industry; miniature golf; Six Flags; Dylan’s Candy Bar; Cheesecake Factory; various ice-cream shops; the zoo; and of course all the necessary errands to get ready for this moment when we arrive at the entrance of sleep away camp.
Welcome to Summer!
As we turn down the dirt road that leads us to his cabin, his home for the next four weeks, I suck in my breath. A young woman with red curly hair wearing a bright yellow shirt introduces herself as C’s division head, and she points us in the direction of his bunk.
Walking through the doorway of his cabin, I’m reminded why overnight camp is for the young. Rows of semi-clean wooden bunk beds jut out from the walls, creating a narrow path to get to the toilets on the other side. C has a few plywood shelves along with a tiny rectangular space that serves as a closet of sorts.
We aren’t supposed to unpack the kids, but another family we know is already doing just that. The two young men who introduce themselves as C’s counselors don’t seem to mind this bending of the rules. So once again I find myself showing my son how to put a fitted sheet on a mattress. My husband of course has a neat little trick: Lift, pull, tuck. In his days as a camper, he was anointed best bed maker in the cabin. Wish I got to see those skills displayed more at home!
I make C put the pillowcase on by himself. After all, he’s here to gain a little indepenence, right? Somehow helping him make his bed doesn’t quite feel like a step in that direction. Yet as soon as his pillow is plumped and his comforter is laid down neatly, he’s done with us.
“Can’t we take just one photo?” I practically beg. I’m on his turf now, and I already sense I’ve lost my parental edge.
“No, mom. Please go,” C says. At least he remembers his manners.
As I approach the door to leave, I turn around one more time. I look at him sitting on his bottom bunk. It fully hits me that if all goes according to plan, I’ll only be seeing him in photos for the next 28 days. Up until now, I could count on my fingers and toes the number of days we had ever been apart.
“I love you, C,” I say softly.
And then his going away present to me: “Love you, Mom.”
He may have refused my request to mug for the camera with us, but those words are worth a thousand photos.