Wednesday, August 5, 2015
This past weekend, we dropped my youngest off at sleep away camp for the first time in his life. Before now, the longest he'd been away from us was one night, for a sleepover at his best friend's house next door. We knew this would be a good experience for him. He's twelve, and would greatly benefit from a taste of independence in a fun, safe environment. We've been talking to him about it for months, showing him pictures of the camp, explaining what they do there, what the schedule is like, what the activities will be and more. His friend from next door went last year for the first time and, after an adjustment period of a few days, loved it. He couldn't wait to go back this year and was thrilled Ben was coming along.
Ben knew they'd be in different bunks, as they are in different grades at school. He knew it was a couple of hours' drive from home, and that it would be a three-week stint instead of two. Because of his age, the two-week stay for first-timers was not an option. He was fine with that. He was excited.
The week before we were to leave for camp, Ben started having anxiety. He became clingy, texting me during the day from day camp to tell me he loved me, he missed me, he wanted to come home. Even though I would pick him up at five o'clock each day, it wasn't enough. He didn't want to go to day camp anymore. He didn't want to go to sleep away. He didn't want to leave my side.
We talked about it, about the unknown aspect and his fears, and did our best to alleviate them. He began having stomach pains at night and trouble falling asleep. He started having nightmares. So we had him talk to his friend next door, a pep-talk of sorts, and he got excited again.
It took longer to get to camp than it should have (Mom read the directions wrong). We toured the campus and saw Ben's friend and had lunch and helped him unpack his things. But when it came time to say goodbye, there were still tears. I'd expected this, and we'd spoken to the nurses, the counselors in his bunk and the director about it. When Ben begged us not to leave him, to take him home where he felt "safe", it took all my strength to hug him and tell him he'd have a great time, and then walk away.
I knew there would be an adjustment period for Ben. What I didn't anticipate was how much *I* would struggle. In the days since dropping him off, I tear up at everything. Croissants are on sale at the supermarket; Ben and I love to get those as special treats for ourselves. *sniff* My husband made roast chicken for dinner, Ben's favorite. *sniff* The song on the radio in the car was made into a Minecraft song, and I'd heard that version first, before the mainstream version, thanks to Ben. *sniff, sniff* And thanks to a week of conditioning before he left, I've been waking up each night at 4:30 am, inexplicably. Unable to fall back to sleep, I lie awake and think of Ben, wondering if he's also awake and missing us, if he's still sad, or angry at me for making him stay, miserable and despondent even while plotting a way to get home. And I cry.
The night after he left, I made dinner, one of Ben's least favorite dishes. As I chopped vegetables and began combining ingredients for sauce, I thought of him and my eyes began to well. I added some soy sauce into a bowl, and the ingredients separated into a smiley face (photo above). My first instinct was to show it to Ben. My next was to take a picture of it, for surely, this was a sign.
My neighbor told me that if the camp hasn't called, it means Ben's doing fine. His brother wrote him a letter. I shipped him a package yesterday, full of things I think he'll enjoy, and he'll receive it tomorrow. I've been keeping busy working, cleaning, scheduling events, and it's helped. I'm not tearing up at every turn, and I've even stopped thinking about him every ten minutes. I also haven't needed to call the camp to see how he's doing, which means I'm going to be fine.
I knew Ben would learn a lot about himself, about what he's capable of, by leaving us for a while. What I didn't know was that I would do the same. So I'm really looking forward to swapping stories with him about it when he gets home.
In 16 days and 21 hours.
Posted by Christine Adler