I recently put my oldest son on the bus for camp.
I reached up to kiss him goodbye and had one of those out-of-body experiences everyone talks about.
As my lips brushed the stubble on his cheek, I was thrown back in time. Suddenly it was seven years ago and he was leaving for his first camp experience.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” I remembered asking my husband, Derek, for the 10th time in 10 minutes.
“Honey, kids go to camp. That’s what they do. He’ll be fine.”
His tone had been strained as he watched me repack our son’s duffle bag. He groaned as I tried to squeeze in Ethan’s winter coat.
I turned around to get our son’s chewable vitamins and found my husband had removed the coat, the bandages and the small bottle of children’s aspirin.
“He’s 9, for crying out loud. What’s he need aspirin for?”
That stumped me. I sat down to think and was overwhelmed with anxiety.
What if he swims out too deep or spends all his snack money on the first day? What if he gets dehydrated? Who will put sunscreen on his back?
I was trying hard not to think about bee stings, broken bones and concussions. My husband kept telling me, “It’s church camp, not boot camp.”
He attributed my worries to the fact that I was hugely pregnant with our fourth son.
Our middle son had watched all the packing (and unpacking), outraged by the fact that he was too young for camp. He finally stomped off, yelling, “Next time you have kids, have ME first.”
His youngest brother was concerned that Ethan wouldn’t have any toys at camp.
He’d added three Star Wars action figures, a Buzz Lightyear and his favorite stuffed bunny to Ethan’s bag. We removed them when he wasn’t looking and drew the line when he dumped in the 5-gallon Lego bucket.
Finally, I pulled myself together and took Ethan to church to catch the bus for camp. While waiting for the kids to depart, I tried not to think about motion sickness, or homesickness, or throwing myself in front of the bus.
The experienced moms who’ve been through this all before, had long gone, having dropped their children off and waved goodbye, without even leaving their cars.
Suddenly the bus engine revved, the children screamed and a small group of us first-timers were left behind in a cloud of exhaust, blinking back tears.
“It’s only five days,” one mom sighed.
“If we hired a helicopter, we could be there in five minutes,” said another.
“It’s church camp, not boot camp,” I contributed.
And then it had hit me – the reason this first separation was so hard. It was a trial run.
In the years ahead, our separations would become more frequent and of longer duration. One day he won’t come home to stay. He’ll only visit.
“Mom … Mom.” Ethan’s voice broke through my reverie, bringing me back to the present as I looked up into my 16-year-old’s eyes.
“You can go now,” he said.
“Have fun,” I yelled as I drove away.
Ethan’s traveled far since his first camp experience seven years ago. In fact, he’s been to Mexico twice – without me.
Saying goodbye has become easier with practice. And in a sense, that’s what motherhood is – a lifetime of letting go.
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