While I knew at least theoretically that his leaving would someday come, I never actually expected it to happen so soon, simply by virtue of the person he is.
Boy Wonder’s different than a lot of kids. Happiest alone, he prefers the comfort of his bedroom walls to anyone or anything. And while he most certainly has friends, he’s never once wanted to spend the night a friend’s house and feels utterly indifferent about having friends over. Ever since Boy Wonder was young child, whenever we’d go someplace really special, like a family vacation or an amusement park, in the midst of big smiles and fun new experiences, after a few short hours he’d always ask to go home.
Home has just always been a source of comfort for my son – ever constant and ever safe. Weird? Maybe, but at least he’s happy here.
When I attended the science camp meeting for parents of budding 6th graders last year, I learned all about the wonderful educational experiences science camp would bring: camping, nature hikes, archery, astronomy, ecology, and botany. What a special opportunity for my son to experience science (his favorite subject) hands on, make lasting memories with his friends there, and perhaps most importantly, spend a few days away from home.
Boy Wonder refused. “I’m not going,” he tells me, “I don’t want to.” Without so much as a single reason why. Knowing him as I do, I already knew why. Four days and three nights away from home was a tall order for my son, a kid who has only ever spent a handful of nights at grandparents’ houses in his 11 years on this earth.
Should I push him? Should I not? Should I respect his discomfort or attempt to change his mind?
I tried everything to convince him that science camp would be great – from the promotional video that totally made me want to go, to the program literature, and of course the argument that 95 percent of the 6th grade class was going (including his friends). Still, his answer was a resounding no.
According to my husband, there are situations (many in fact) in which kids don’t get to have a say. And this, he decided, was one of them. He was going to camp whether he liked it or not.
In a total chickens**** move, I bowed out of breaking the news to him. Boy Wonder was understandably pissed. I heard a door slam. For days, he barely said a word.
Fast forward months later and camp deposits and final balances paid, last Sunday we packed him up for camp in near silence. As he sat on his suitcase for the final zip, he looked me in the yes and said simply, “Mom, I’m really going to miss you.”
“Me too, hon. You have no idea.”
This morning, we headed to school with herds of excited parents and students saying goodbye for the next week. There were hugs, a few tears, and lots of smooches between parents and children. As for me and my son, this picture of me hugging my son under duress, complete with forced smile was all I got. I turned my head to say hello to a fellow mom and the moment I turned back he was gone. There was no goodbye. There was no mutual hug. There was only his green suitcase and sleeping bag carelessly tossed in front of the school marquee.
How could he not say goodbye? Was he not sad to leave? Was he too sad to leave? Did he just not care? Or did he care too much?
I know this post reads incredibly melodramatic to the parent whose kid didn’t leave for the first time to camp – or really, the first time to anywhere - but today, as I write this, I hope he begins to understand the importance of this experience. As the first of many away from home, goodbyes aren’t always easy, but saying them can be as important as hearing them.
I needed a goodbye from my son today and didn’t get one. I trust that he needed a goodbye too; he just doesn’t know it yet.