Last week I went to visiting day at my 9 year old son’s sleepaway camp in Upstate New York. Michael, Sarah and I flew from our home in Atlanta and drove North with extended family to the camp Daniel and his cousin had called home for the past five weeks. That’s four weeks and 29 days longer than my baby had ever been away from home before.
On The Big Day, parents rolled into camp early, laden with chairs and bags upon bags of snacks for our poor, junk-food-deprived children. No matter that bringing snacks is expressly forbidden, like pack mules we headed up the hill where we were then corralled, away from our kids, waiting for the moment they would be released to us.
And then it was time. Parents raced to the appointed place, knocking over those in wheelchairs and small children in their haste (just kidding…sort of). Names were called and each child came running from parts unseen, down a long gravel path amidst flashing Iphones, toward the open arms of emotional moms hiding teary eyes behind sunglasses and beaming dads.
I swallowed a sob as my boy came running to me and once I’d hugged and kissed him as much as he’d allow and then some, I observed him in his new surroundings. It was obvious that with independence, and perhaps the fresh mountain air too, he’d grown and changed. He was at home here, navigating his independence with confidence and joy. He had new best friends, a favorite counselor, friends on the staff who had his back and a whole host of memories to take home with him and revisit next Summer.
The camp itself is magical. Rolling stretches of hilly green, sparkling lake, pure, fresh air. Serenity. There are no electronics here, no TVs, no air conditioning. No speedboats, no water slides. Just a group of kids, counselors and staff who truly love this place. Here, it is all about tradition and sometimes you are lulled into believing you’re in the 1950s. My husband went to this camp, his cousins and parents and grandparents were staples there too. There is history and roots in those fields and streams and a desire to uphold the traditions of the past.
Even though I knew we’d have to say goodbye to him at the end of the day, visiting day was blissful. At least until we were in Daniel’s cabin and I realized that almost every piece of clothing he owned was under his bed inside two stuffed-to-capacity laundry bags. It was then that my new attitude of embracing my 9-year old’ independence was truly tested. He hadn’t taken his laundry to be done in two weeks and, he said matter of factly, he’d been wearing the same pants for five days.
“Relax. It’s fine He’s fine,” my husband said soothingly as he lugged the bags to the laundry room.
“But…” I began.
“He’s fine,” he said again. And, amazingly, I agreed. And I let it go. Mostly.
Sure, he may be wearing dirty underwear or going without (who knows?) but it was not my problem. I walked away, gritting my teeth, dying to go and do that laundry myself.
At least it’s not as bad as the stories I’ve heard from other parents about finding an unopened soap on visiting day (five weeks into camp) or never used toothbrushes. Or sheets that stayed unpacked until the day before camp ended.
As I write this, Daniel is boarding a plane with his dad and coming back to me.
His welcome home poster is taped to the door. The balloons on the mailbox wave in the wind. I have all the ingredients for his favorite dinner ready to go. And I am waiting, waiting, waiting. It has, after all, been a very, very long six weeks. But his happiness and newfound independence and the connections he’s made have made my missing secondary. Even if he is wearing filthy clothes.