I’m holding my breath for 11 more days.
This morning the cat didn’t get fed until 7. Noah’s 6-year-old brother, Sam, was the first one up and put on music to stave off the quiet. I found myself, after the breakfast dishes were done, listening to the washing machine on spin.
It’s going to be a long two weeks.
There is less drama around the house without Noah, but I notice everything he has left behind, his objects and his ambience.
His nightlight stays on because it’s too disconcerting to walk past his room otherwise. His bed is too empty, pillows sacrificed to the dust of the Santa Monica mountains. Our fruit bowl is too full, 10 ripe peaches he would have eaten in two days.
Noah adored camp last year. When we picked him up at the wooden tables outside the dining hall after a five-day session, he was playing War with his friends. “Hi!” he said, and went back to shuffling cards.
On the way home he talked double-time about kids we’d never heard of, British and Israeli counselors we’d barely met. He told us about Hawaiian punch at breakfast, an impromptu disco party thrown by the counselors, beach balls pounded around the cabin at rest time. This year he’ll get to do archery, ride llamas, tend a garden in the shape of the state of Israel. No kidding.
I think back to myself at camp at his age, a 10-year-old with a bowl haircut. I wrote letters to my friends. I ate sugary cereal for breakfast. I missed my shower. But I didn’t think much about my parents except for a dutiful letter or two.
Part of me is less worried this year because Noah loved camp so much last year. But part of me is more. What if his friends are no longer his friends? What if he finds 12 days too tiring? What if this is the moment that turns him off of camp forever?
But these are not his issues. He would not even recognize them. They are mine, left over from childhood and freighted with a mother’s idyllic and paranoid expectations. Fears fueled by memories of rainbow T-shirts that missed being cool by a few points. Thick books that none of the other girls would have thought about packing. Rimless glasses that looked like a windshield for my eyes. Capfuls of sunscreen that no one else seemed to need.
I preferred the mint chip It’s-It ice cream at the canteen to the gaga game below. At bedtime I wanted to go to sleep already. Despite pouring pancakes onto a camp stove and laughing at the counselors’ nicknames for themselves, I never fit naturally into camp’s outdoorsy, “anything goes” spirit. So the fact that Noah just might, despite his pale skin and freckles like mine, astonishes me.
Yesterday as we drove into camp, I could hardly park–I was so nervous. We walked down an asphalt road, past the pool, through a tunnel of counselors, their hands clasped above us, singing with such gusto I thought their voices would be shot by noon.
Noah’s face beamed out wonder, magic, dirt, and disco parties. As I put my arm around his shoulders, he sloughed it off and whispered, “I’ve been waiting all year for this!”
A nurse took his temperature, a woman with nimble fingers performed a lice check. A counselor took us past the gaga pit to the conference center, where college students in yellow staff shirts buzzed around. Someone pointed to counselor Ben, and Noah walked straight to him, scoping the scene. I tapped Noah on the shoulder to say goodbye. A hug and then he dissolved into the frenzy.
I used to think camp was about Noah’s becoming more independent, finding his own way, leaving behind the minor annoyances of playing Battleship on command and practicing piano and unloading the dishwasher–chipping away at a life beyond our house.
This summer, though, on Day 2 of 12, it seems that camp is as much for me as it is for Noah. It forces me to accept his leaving home. I see the bags under his giddy eyes on the camp website and can do absolutely nothing about his bedtime.
It calls up like a slideshow the memories of my own sometimes tentative camp experiences. It asks me to remember that he is not me. It asks me to let go.
Tonight maybe I’ll turn off his nightlight. Or maybe that can wait until next year.