I said I wouldn’t do it, and then I went and did it. I sent my barely 9 year old boy to overnight summer camp. For two weeks.
I really get that for many people, this is just not a big deal. I’m not any of them though, and it was a huge deal for me. Why? Let me explain.
1. I come from good immigrant stock (Asia, if you’re curious) which means, if you’re first generation, there is positively, absolutely no camp of any kind. Firstly, there’s nowhere near any money for this – camp is expensive, and overnight camp tops the summit of extracurricular disposable income. Secondly, sending your kids off to be cared for overnight by strangers is a foreign and kind of unseemly idea. My older sister was never allowed to attend sleepover parties away from home. I was permitted such luxuries only because I’m 8 years younger, and my mother was both more acclimatized and worn down when it was my turn to ask.
2. I am taking a leave of absence to spend time with my children, not to send them away. Also: not working means not bringing in any income to pay for overnight camp. It’s like not having any cake, and not eating it.
3. My son is still really young, just 9 years old. I was open to being persuaded that overnight camp could happen to us. My husband started overnight camp when he was 7, and recognizes it as possibly the strongest and most positive force in his youth. Okay, okay. Maybe later.
Then, slowly, over the course of the last school year, I found myself turning. And I can tell you intellectually what got me to that point: a sense during the school year that my son needed something else, something more; a great friend attending the camp for the first time too; moving endorsements of the camp from parents; recognizing opportunities for mentorship that my husband and I couldn’t otherwise provide on our own.
Still, I was partly baffled to find myself in a car with my boy a few weeks ago, complete with sleeping bag and duffle bag stuffed with outdoorsy things labelled with his name. Driving him to God knows where, to leave him with God knows who, to do God knows what.
Then we arrived. A teenaged boy greeted us at the entrance and directed us to the right cabin, where the cabin counsellor met us with a smile. The camp directors appeared out of nowhere to give my son a warm welcome and call him by name (they didn’t know mine, delighting me with their priorities). The campers were energetic, but focused; the camp rustic, but well organized. Smooth sailing all around.
I was wide-eyed and wanted to see more, maybe attend the tour for the campers? Um, no. My son was okay (sort of) with me helping him get settled in the cabin because he knew other parents did this, but mostly while unpacking he pretended I wasn’t there or that he didn’t know me. The tanned cabin counsellor (16 years old? 18?) smiled again and said, “He’s just excited”.
Which was a kind thing to say but not true. My son knew his adventure had started, and that it did not include me. I reluctantly took his cues and walked out of the cabin after a crummy, sideways non-hug. I wandered around the camp a little bit to address my curiosity. I left feeling satisfied and calm. My son would be fine here, I thought. He wanted to be there, and the camp knew what it was doing.
I didn’t even miss him at first. Then, maybe on day four, I was driving alone in the car and gripped the wheel. “This is what it’s going to be like when he goes to university,” I seethed. I was not worried for his well-being, or even that he was homesick. I was not worried about anything. It just finally registered that he was gone. I recovered from this episode, but still my body kept wondering where he was, and it mattered not that my mind knew.
I checked the mail everyday. One day, this arrived:
It was my only contact with him for two weeks. I was satiated completely.
On the day of his return, he got off the bus looking dirty and tired and older. He had an amazing time. Also he was happy to be home. Filled with stories, he would soon give me a better sense of the camp than any tour could do.
We’ve got one more week to adjust to the reality of returning to school which, let’s face it, is a whole other kettle of complicated fish. But when we do finally arrive at the schoolyard, it will be with the learning experience of this summer under both our belts, and it’s about as equipped as we can be. Let the new year begin.