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Sending my son to sleep-away camp, I discover that he's not the one who will be homesick.

One Happy Camper

Monday

I spend the better part of today running the washer and dryer, checking off lists and accidentally decorating my hands with a Sharpie. My oldest, my baby boy who is hours shy of 11 years old, is leaving for sleep away camp tomorrow. It will be his first time away from home for more than 36 hours. I’m so excited for him and what I know (hope?) will be a fantastic experience. He’s ecstatic, mostly for the food.

I’ve been in denial about the fact that he is leaving –- or just too busy to deal with the packing until now. So today is the day that I not only race through the house collecting the essentials and piling them atop the dining room table, but also instill any last minute parental advice. Pearls of wisdom, like, “You know, if you don’t poop everyday -- or they’re hard -- it means you need to eat more fruits and vegetables.”  I’m sure my son is counting down the minutes until I am no longer in his presence. But because he is a boy, and kind, he does not roll his eyes.

Everywhere I turn are reminders of the child he will never be again -– someone else’s toddler passed out in a stroller, teeny-tiny sneakers that seem only big enough for an adult thumb. I marvel at how my own son’s fat little feet once sweet enough to nibble have transformed in just a decade. Forget the long, bony shape they have taken. It’s the odor that astounds.

My mind reels with the to-dos -– he needs to mow the lawn, he needs to pack his toothbrush even though he thinks it is a useless object. I’ll know whether any of the girls have piqued his interest by the state of his hair when we pick him up in three weeks. I ask my son if he’d like to bring a stuffed animal. He looks at me as if I’ve lost my mind. Perhaps I have.

Tuesday

We drop off our baby. My husband assists in making our son’s bed (top bunk) and I help him place his clothes in the two cubbies he has been allotted. Smoothing out the shirts and shorts, I talk out loud as we organize. “Here are your bathing suits. Your long sleeve shirts and pants are on top of your rain poncho.” I show him how easy it is to find articles of clothing when they are neatly folded though I know that within 24 hours, it will all be one balled up muddy mess of fabric. I spy the shoe rack and see that another boy has the exact same sandals as my son. In the exact same size. The boy’s father says, “It’s okay. None of their stuff is going to make it home anyway.”

Names ricochet along with the Nerf basketball being hurled from bunk to bunk. The boys bond over flying objects as I try to learn just a bit about the kids who will be my son’s friends for the next three weeks, and perhaps the rest of his life. They come from Jersey, New York, Virginia, Minnesota, Chicago and Abu Dhabi. After 30 minutes, my son turns to me and says, “Aren’t you going to leave soon?” My husband tries to get me out of the cabin. “Give him some space,” he says.

But I am rooted to the dusty wooden floor, staring as my child circles away from me and into another orbit. And I realize that the past nearly 11 years have all led up to this very moment. The sleepless nights, the nagging, the worry, the care. The attempts to instill manners and hygiene and empathy and curiosity. All my blood, sweat, tears and love so that my child can successfully separate from me for a game of basketball and a cookie.

Driving away, my husband turns to me and says, “You know, we’re the ones who are going to be homesick.”

Wednesday

It is amazing how quiet a house still occupied by a four and seven-year-old boy can seem. I am eager to lavish more attention on them, have more patience for yet another game of ‘Sorry’ or ‘Uno’, embrace them just a bit longer at bedtime. Because if I play my cards right, one day -– a day that will arrive before I know it –- they will turn to me and say, “Isn’t it time for you to leave now?”

August, 2011