When my tween son asked to go to sleep away camp, I supported his decision and his quest for independence, but inwardly, I worried. He had never been away from us for very long. Wouldn’t he be homesick?
Lots of other parents assured me that kids return home confident and self-assured from the independence, so with a heavy heart, I signed him up.
I did what I do best when I worry about my kids, I researched, planned, and organized like a machine. I wrote his initials on each item and then carefully placed them in huge ziplock bags and labeled them, “daily outfits,” “bath towels,” “sweatshirts,” etc. I pre-stamped and addressed 10 envelopes and put them in a stationary box with colored pens and stickers and prayed he would be okay.
The camp was device free, and I didn’t hear anything from him for the first six days. Where were all those pre-addressed envelopes? I worried about him constantly, imagining him softly sobbing in his pillow each night, missing me tucking him in and rubbing his back.
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On the seventh day, we were allowed to schedule a 10-minute phone call. It felt like I was awaiting a call from an inmate at a penitentiary. When my phone lit up with the camp area code, my husband and younger son gathered around the phone.
“Hi, buddy! How’s it going? Are you okay?” I asked.
“It’s great. I have so many friends. I’m not even homesick. I’m too busy having fun. Actually, Mom, I’m missing a tether ball tournament talking to you right now, so is it okay if I go?” he asked.
“He could have said he missed us a little,” joked my husband. But I was liberated from my worrying, which satisfied me immensely. I did wish he would have given us more details though.
When we picked him up, he was exhausted. I cuddled him on the ride home, and he fell asleep immediately, leaving me unable to pepper him with questions. I ended up only receiving two succinct letters from him (which were required), so while I knew it was a positive experience, I still felt in the dark about his adventure. That is until we arrived home, and I unpacked his duffle bag.
First, I found a ton of Skittles wrappers. One of them had a Post-it stuck to it that read “Great idea Ryan. Thanks. From, Nick.” Nick is Ryan’s best friend. A clue! I called Ryan over and inquired about the note.
“Nicky was feeling homesick. So I told him that every time I started to miss you guys, I downed an entire pack of Skittles all at once. It made me feel great. Kind of filled up with energy. Some days I had a few packs. They’re like anti-homesick pills,” he explained, beaming with pride.
“A few packs a day?” I asked.
He grinned and nodded enthusiastically.
“No wonder you want to go back!” I said. At least he missed us.
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I continued unloading the duffle bag. I pulled out an absolutely filthy towel. It was crunchy. It was covered in dirt. It smelled. It had BLOOD on it.
“Ryan? What is this?” I asked.
“What do you mean? It’s my towel,” he replied.
I continued unloading the bag and noticed that all of his bath and swim towels were still folded in the labeled ziplock bags I had packed them in. I froze.
“Wait a minute. What towels did you use to shower with?” I asked.
“What towels did you use for the pool?”
“What towels did you use for the lake?”
“You used this one towel, for EVERYTHING for two weeks straight?” I shrieked.
“Yeah. Mom, you should be happy. Some kids didn’t shower at all. At least I showered most days,” he declared.
Pinching the towel, averting my face, and extending my arm as far as I could to be away from it, I dropped the towel directly in the trash.
“Buddy, I thought you were going to learn how to be independent?”
“What do you think I did? I learned I don’t have to follow all your rules, and I’ll still survive. See? I don’t need you, Mom, perfectly independent.”
I laughed, and strangely, did feel really proud of his discovery. This is what it means to be a tween isn’t it? To get out there, figure it out on your own, make some poor decisions along the way. He’s starting to branch out, but yeah, he definitely does still need me.