The mom watches as her son loads his gear for camp into the car. Inside her heart emotional extremes battle it out: excitement for his upcoming adventure and her upcoming quiet; and sadness at watching her child prepare to leave her. She knows that before long it will be for good.
You want the truth about sending your kids packing? I think you can handle it.
My family looks forward to camp every summer. I have made no secret of the fact that this is a mutually beneficial ritual for the boys and for their mom and dad. We’ve found that camp offers our kids the unique and thrilling chance to run wild in boy heaven, all the while taking on responsibilities, growing, and maturing. Camp teaches us that we can be on our own and still be ok.
As the kids get older that last lesson appears to be geared more towards the parents, versus towards their not-so-young campers.
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This year when the time came for my older son to pack for his extended camp stay, I came ready for the task with my packing paraphernalia organized. Personalized labels to stick on any and everything. Sharpie pens for marking items that refused to accommodate labels. Printed out lengthy packing lists from the camp website. Large Ziploc bags to separate out smaller clothing items. Small Ziploc bags for things that leak. And on and on . . . you get the picture.
For the past few years my son and I have packed for camp together; he fetches necessary items, and I prepare them and help to create an organized trunk. But this year my teenager had other plans.
“Um, thanks, but I’ve got this, Mom,” he said, eyeing the small mountain of supplies I had balanced in my arms.
“I can just pack myself this year.” He somewhat reluctantly took my items from me. “But thanks.”
It is hard to describe the subsequent emotions that unfolded, but they went something like: Woo hoo! Yaaaaasss!! . . . Aw, good for you . . . Although this is not so easy breezy, mister . . . Oh sure you think you can do it, but you’re definitely gonna need some help once you really get into it . . . And you will be able to find me watching my DVR’d Odd Mom Out with a glass of Pinot . . . Woo hoo! Yaaassss!
So I excused myself and went back downstairs and waited for him to call me. Had my glass of wine and started dinner. No calls ever came. Eventually I couldn’t stand it. I grabbed a laundry basket and casually trekked upstairs.
“Hey Mom!” he said when he saw me, a big grin on his face. “I’m finished!” The trunk was closed with his sleeping bag and pillow and backpack on top.
Whaaat? Uh, wow. That was done in, like, record time. Exceptionally fast. Faster than you might think possible. I looked on his bed and saw all the pristine boxes of Ziploc bags, unopened. A suspiciously large number of label sheets unused. In fact, most of my super mom packing items had been left by the wayside.
And the closed trunk. What was my obligation here? He was going away for a long time. It could be pretty miserable if he left something crucial, or if he couldn’t find what he needed. How could this possibly be right when he had blown off my exceptionally helpful system? There was a better way to do this – mine!
But just when I started to insist that he let me check and recheck and surely fix his trunk, I looked at him. He was so pleased. This was far from his first camp rodeo. And he was fourteen years old.
There was nothing for me to do. Literally. Except to gather up the multitude of supplies that personified my wish to control, to assist, to safeguard, to love. In the challenging early days I surely fantasized about sending my wild boys packing, but the truth is, I now know their going leaves behind bittersweet baggage that is only mine to claim.
Want to get a better handle on sending them – or getting sent -packing? Check out these cool summer camp movies for kids and for when they’re gone; laugh and cry with The Middle’s Frankie as she camps out for tickets to the Justin Bieber concert she will not be invited to attend; and rock on with Bananarama’s soundtrack to your summer growing pains.
Bess Kercher, M.A. explores the reality of motherhood in her blog "A Few Good Moms...Can You Handle the Truth?" Bess lives in Charlotte with her husband and two sons. You can read more of her writing at www.maemucho.com.