While a good portion of the country is already gearing up for “back to school”—I hear there are some that get started in mid-August—we are still in the throes of summer over here, with a good month and change to go.
And this summer, I’m dealing with something I’ve never had to face before.
My son is at sleepover camp, and I am bereft.
It certainly wasn’t my idea to send him. I was hoping he wouldn’t even know there WAS such a thing as sleepover camp, and if that failed I was hoping he’d think it sounded awful.
It sounds pretty awful to me: Cabins and mosquito nets, bugs everywhere, a dirty, cold lake, no family around, no phones or computers, lots of group activities… I’m sure I’ve had nightmares like that. I may have had one last night. But to an eleven-year-old boy, everything but the no computer and no phone part seems pretty good.
When I was eight or nine, I begged my parents to let me go to sleepover camp. They relented, and sent me for ten days. Ten minutes after I got there I decided to hate it.
I must have been the biggest pain-in-the-ass camper ever to hit Camp Wahanowin. I had steely determination to make sure I didn’t enjoy one second of it. I was such a drag that the other campers in my cabin used to throw my letters away if they saw them in the to-mail pile, just to be the assholes I already knew they were. In hindsight, maybe they weren´t, but at the time they were yet another reason to be miserable.
My father was a much nicer unhappy camper than I was. My grandmother still has a letter from him that says, ¨Dear Mummy and Daddy, They are trying to make me happy. Love, Joel.¨
At least he acknowledged the effort. I was oblivious.
But I’m not miserable now. I choose happiness over misery 99% of the time, and I encourage my kids to do the same. I told my son that story of me at camp before he left, just so he’d know, if things aren’t perfect, he has the power to make them better, that he is the one in control of his experience.
But he doesn’t need me to tell him that. He’s never been to camp before in his life, but he told us he wanted to take the bus there instead of having us drive him, because then he’d have a chance to make friends on the way. Smart kid.
He told me he’d miss us, but that he’d be having fun. He even concocted a strategy to help himself deal with homesickness. Knowing he’d be writing to us at night, when his homesickness resistance would be at its lowest, he planned to write to us about everything he did during the day, so he’ll be focused on the happy, fun times.
My son is a hell of a lot smarter than his momma.
Of course, I raised him to be smarter than I. Isn’t that how it works? I saw that on Roseanne once, when Darlene was upset about something and Roseanne explained to her that each generation is a little less crazy than the one that came before. I hope that’s is the case. My mother was brilliant, and wonderful, and I miss her every single day, but she was definitely a few hairs crazier than I am.
So how will he do at camp? The suspense is killing me. He got there yesterday and I wrote him three letters (one snail mail, two through their email, covering all the bases) but even if he wrote us last night, we have to wait a few more days to get a letter, because he has to mail it.
I found a picture of him on the camp website, just one. He’s shirtless and standing near a lake. I immediately wrote to him to remind him to wear sunblock, because I’m a Mom and I’m allowed.
I wanted to tell him how I miss him, how I cried after he got on the bus, how his room feels empty and hollow, how I went and stood in there last night. I want to tell him that I don’t mind stepping on pointy, ouchy Legos today because they remind me of him. I want to tell him that the house is too quiet, even though his little sister’s still here (thank goodness). She misses him too. She slipped her hand into mine yesterday after he left, gave it a sweet squeeze, but then she cried too.
I didn’t write any of that, of course. Instead I filled my letters with questions about camp, and told him how fun it sounds, and told him some silly things about the cat, and reluctantly signed off.
I’m trying to be a better person, I am. This is what my kids keep teaching me, to be a better person, a bigger one. I hope they succeed, because he said, if he likes camp, he wants to go for FOUR weeks next year.
Laurie Ulster is a freelance writer who used to run websites for Fuse and A&E, and previously worked as a TV producer. Her work most frequently appears at Bio.com, where she specializes in pop culture, at The Chefs Connection, where she interviews chefs, and at The Mid, where she writes about parenting, lifestyle, feminism, pop culture, and just about anything else.
Photo: Preston Ciere