I was prepared for my son to be homesick while he was at sleepaway camp. No one told me how hard it would be on me.
Last Friday, we dropped off my 10-year-old son at an overnight camp for the very first time.
Of all our kids, he’s the least likely candidate for a weeklong camp. While our three girls would have left us at his age with hardly a backward glance, Bruiser is attached to his family like glue, and has already made us promise at least a thousand times that he will be allowed to live with us for the rest of his life. (He’s now expanded this vision to include a house he’ll buy next door — where he can keep his toys and science projects — but he can still sleep at our house, right? Right?)
Yet when one of Bruiser’s favorite friends said he’d spend a week at overnight camp if my son came, too, it was an offer neither family could resist. In the boys’ minds, it would be a week-long sleepover, with lots of games and activities! In our minds, it would be a week without stepping on LEGO pieces! A glorious week of sleeping past daybreak! It was 100% win for everyone involved!
And so, we all headed to the camp Friday afternoon and dropped both boys off without fanfare. I made up Bruiser’s bunk for him, showed him where to keep his belongings, reminded him to take showers, brush his teeth and change his clothes, and left, along with all the other parents. As we pulled out of the parking area, Bruiser came out onto the porch to wave goodbye. I know my son well, and I could tell by his eyes that he wanted to cry just a tiny bit, but that he was also very excited to be with his friends. Totally understandable. We smiled and waved and drove away.
All was fine here at home the first night — Sure, it was a little quieter than normal — but fine. Although my son was gone for a few days, he was far from forgotten; the toys and clothing he’d left strewn about the house made sure of that. I stumbled over a remote-controlled car and sighed, feeling my son’s presence in all he’d managed to pull out and leave on the floor before going off to camp. Not much had changed.
The next morning, though, things were different.
Our son is and always has been our early riser. He’s generally up with the sun, climbing down the ladder of his bunk bed and clomping into our room to grandly announce the day with a stage-whispered,”WILL SOMEBODY COME DOWNSTAIRS WITH ME?” Once he’s awoken an audience of at least one (and hopefully more), he’s off with a loud running commentary of every single thought that flits through his mind, a monumental soliloquy that will continue for the next 14 or so hours. At this point, anyone in our house can forget about sleeping in; unless you have a first rate set of earplugs handy, it’s just not happening. Generally, we moan and groan about our early riser and beg him to let us sleep — but on this first morning of camp, the silence of Bruiser’s absence was louder than any alarm clock. Inexplicably, we found ourselves up at dawn, blinking at the eerie stillness. And that’s when I realized it.
I missed my son.
I consoled myself by grabbing my phone beside the bed and checking the camp website for photos. The first batch had been uploaded overnight and I found a sliver of my son in a group photo. His cheeks were flushed (Malaria?! Lyme Disease?!)– and while the kids around him were raising two arms in what looked like some sort of camp cheer, he was only raising one. What was that about?! Was Bruiser signaling that he was depressed?
Or was I overreacting? I closed the website and tried to turn my attention elsewhere. It shouldn’t have been hard; I had tons of plans for things to do with my daughter over the next few days. We left to see Wonder Woman, which took up most of the afternoon, but when we got home, she went up to her room and I was confronted once again with the sound of silence. It was so unnatural. So wrong. I covered my ears, trying to drown out the awful absence of boy noise.
I opened a book I was attempting to finish in time for an upcoming Book Club meeting, but stopped after a few pages to check the camp’s website and Facebook page on my phone. No new photos. What was up with that? It had been hours since the last upload! HOURS! I read another paragraph. What if I just drove down there and parked at a distance? It wasn’t all that far away… I turned the page, finished the chapter. I checked the camp website again. No. New. Photos. Who were these people, anyway? Why couldn’t they update their damned website?
An hour later, my husband came home from work. “It sure is quiet in here,” he said.
“I know!” I replied. It’s unnatural to go this long without even talking to Bruiser on the phone!”
“It’s wrong,” he agreed.
“I was thinking of maybe e-mailing the camp director to ask if they could check in on him,” I ventured.
“No no,” my husband said. “You don’t need to do that. I’m sure he’s fine.”
“You’re absolutely right,” I said quickly. “He’s fine.” We decided instead to take our daughter to the Y for a quick workout. Once we got home and had eaten, I worked for a bit on my laptop at the kitchen table. Silence once again settled over the house. It wasn’t long before Hubs came in the room.
“I think you should e-mail the camp director,” he said decisively. “He’s our son. We should know how he’s doing.”
“You’re absolutely right,” I agreed. “We NEED TO KNOW. It’s our job as his parents!” I resolved to send an e-mail bright and early the next morning. In the meantime, I checked the camp website again for new photos. I was in luck — A few dozen new images had appeared! Eagerly, I scrolled through them, only to find that MY SON WASN’T IN ANY OF THEM.
My pulse quickened. My breathing grew shallow. The camp had a swimming hole! It was surrounded by deep woods! And it was in a rural part of the state- There were undoubtedly meth heads lurking about, looking for children to trade in exchange for Sudafed! SOMETHING HORRIBLE HAD OBVIOUSLY HAPPENED TO MY SON. That much I knew! Because if something horrible had not happened to my son, he would have been in one of the pictures! WHY HAD NO ONE CONTACTED ME?! DID THEY EVEN KNOW HE WAS MISSING?! WHO WERE THESE PEOPLE, ANYWAY?! AND WHY DID THEY ALL USE FAKE NAMES LIKE BUTTON AND PEACHES?! IT WAS EXTREMELY SUSPICIOUS! I scrolled through the photos again, scouring the background for any trace of my boy — when suddenly, I spotted him in a crowd of other children. His face was painted for war. He looked fierce. He looked… thrilled. I let out a long sigh. My son was okay. I could go to sleep in peace.
Once I lay down, though, the worries began anew. I mean, sure he was okay when that picture was taken, but what about afterward? What about when the sun went down and he was alone in his bunk, probably sobbing because he missed all of us (especially me) so much? I tossed and turned in bed all night, my heart aching for my poor son and his torment. Why had I sent him off to a strange place, among strange people with strange names, for five whole days?! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD HE WAS ONLY TEN. What was wrong with me?
At the crack of dawn, I was up, of course, composing an e-mail to the camp director. I tried to keep it casual, explaining briefly that it was my son’s first time at camp and that he’d been a bit nervous about getting homesick. I wondered if it would be possible to make sure he was doing okay after two nights on his own? I hit ‘send.’
One hour passed. Then two. Then THREE. I checked the website, the Facebook page. No updates. No response to my e-mail. I had work to do that morning, but my thoughts kept straying back to the camp, and my finger kept straying back to the refresh button on my e-mail account. What the hell was going on? Had the camp site been overtaken by terrorists? Or meth heads? Or, or… creek pirates? Surely not. More likely, the camp director had gone off to inquire about my son, only to find that NO ONE HAD SEEN HIM IN TWO DAYS! Or maybe the camp director was slumped over his computer, shot down by a stray arrow from the archery field! Whatever the explanation, it seemed likely that something horrible had happened at this so-called camp, and Peaches and Buttons were too afraid to tell me! Why else would no one answer my e-mail? It had been THREE FULL HOURS since I’d sent it. There was no other possible explanation!
Suddenly, a reply appeared in my inbox. I held my breath as I opened it. Bruiser was… was…
Fine. He was fine. The camp director had asked him how he was doing and he said he was having a great time. The director had also checked in with his counselor, who reported that my son had shown no signs of homesickness.
All was well.
However, that was yesterday. Since then, 24 hours have passed with no contact. No new pictures have been posted on the website. The Facebook page seems to have been abandoned. Anything could have happened. Earthquake. Famine. Flood. Plague. I am beside myself. I am counting the minutes until my son comes home and I can freaking sleep again.
Sleepaway camp was the worst idea ever.