As we turn onto the campus, my son sees the football field. The gates are open. “Can I go on it?” he asks. “Sure,” I reply, thinking that whichever marketing consultant set up the registration next to the football field knew what she was doing.
He looks huge everywhere now, but not as he runs out to touch the turf. Finally, he looks as small as he feels to me as I’m dropping him off at his first sleep-away camp.
Even if they’re old enough to figure out the camp they want and they set their own alarm on the day of registration so that they're assured a spot and they find their own roommate, it still doesn’t feel like they’re ready for it. Of course, that’s only if we’re not ready for it. I am as free range as they come — my kids are riding bikes to parks and friends’ houses all of the time — but if he wanted to turn around once I unpacked all of his things in the drawers, I would gather everything without hesitation and pack it all up and him and my heart in my car and go home, thank you very much.
He has no desire to do that; I offered. Pat shows him how to use the shower down the hall. We tell him, “Wear your shower shoes,” as if any of this will matter once we leave. He’s great — excited, with friends, completely ready. We are awkward; he’s our first, after all, and I remind him of that every time I make the first pancake a little burned. “Sorry about that. Just getting the hang of it here, you know how that goes,” I wink at him.
I remind him to drink water and to put on sun block. We find ourselves squeezing in a major talk about pedophiles on the last bridge before we turn onto campus, trying as hard as we can to dump out a lifetime’s worth of knowledge into his head while we pass over the river. My dad is at home with my mom and sister this Father’s Day, watching our other children because parenthood goes on for infinity, if you’re doing it right.
I remind my son not to eat too much junk food, that if he gets sick from that, I won’t feel bad and I won’t want to drive up to get him for that. I’m playing tough, even with tears in my eyes when I think of leaving him. He says, “Papa and Grandma already told me that if I feel uncomfortable about anything or if I don’t feel well, they’ll come and get me, so I’ll be fine.” Well, ok then. He is my first child and their first grandchild and so we are all, shall we say, uneasy about this first camp experience. On the Flavin side, he’s the 30-something-ish grandchild, the son of my husband who is the baby of 9, who tells stories about how his parents dropped him off at college: They sent him on a plane with two duffel bags taped together so it would count as one bag and a “We’ll see you at Thanksgiving!” He turned out well, too.
No matter which number kid we’re dealing with, though, the only question we ever have as parents that makes us wonder hard: Did we give them enough? Love? Care? Experience? Knowledge? And the only answer I’m sure of is terrifying because it’s: Not really, but maybe? We do our very best and it’s still a crapshoot if they got what they needed. Whatever they have or don’t, they’re on their way.
We had settled all his things in his room and I went down to make sure his buddies all had what they needed because I was procrastinating; all was well. I came back into our son’s room and I said to Pat convincingly, “Well, his counselor seems good to me.”
And Pat said, “That’s the thing about child predators. They always seem good.”
And our son said, “I think now’s a good time for you guys to head out. I love you. Thanks.”
And our son was right and we are home now.
I woke up with Randy Newman’s song, We Belong Together, from the Toy Story movie, which I have not watched in at least two years, in my head — the last time I watched it in its entirety the boy at camp was in my lap and this is how it goes, if we’re lucky.