Friday, April 29, 2011

Missing out

In the end, Tim missed the whole three-day sixth grade Outdoor Education trip. Each of the three mornings, he woke with a fever; each morning we said “Maybe tomorrow you can go.” We had plans and back-up plans and extra options for how to get him there. The first day, we said “You’ll only miss the introductions!” The second day, we said “You’ll still fit in one full day!” We told him no one would remember later on exactly which activities he was and was not present for, as long as he was there for some part of it.

But in the end, he wasn’t. He couldn’t rid himself of the fever that was keeping him listless and pale, so he stayed behind the whole time and thought about all his classmates up at camp in New Hampshire.

On Wednesday he asked to go over to my parents’ house for a little bit, thinking their company would cheer him up. When we arrived, my mother reminisced about an experience when she was a girl that I hadn’t heard before. She and her elder sister had rehearsed a tumbling act together for weeks; apparently the grand finale involved my mother being lifted high in the air (or possibly standing atop her sister and somehow elevating herself that way). She woke the morning of the gymnastics show with a fever and wasn’t allowed to go. “If I’d done the show, I probably wouldn’t remember it,” Mom said on Wednesday. “It’s memorable only because I was so disappointed I didn’t get to do it.”

That made me think about events that are memorable for having been missed. When I was about Holly’s age, a friend was having a birthday party; according to the invitation, there would be elephant rides, though looking back it’s very hard for me to imagine how this was going to happen in Carlisle, but I suppose it’s possible. I developed a high fever that day and had to miss the party; I thought about elephant rides for months after that. And as my parents both told Tim about while we were at their house, it was almost a certainty during my childhood that whenever the family took an airline trip together, at least one of us kids if not more would be sick sometime during our travels and have to miss out on some of the fun, lying in a hotel room bed instead. I can remember sore throats in destinations from Orlando to Palo Alto to San Francisco. Apparently we were extremely susceptible to airport germs.

Tim’s classmates all returned from the outdoor education trip last night. Yesterday I took Tim to the pediatrician, who said he should stay home today since he was still running a fever. I know Tim is bored and misses his friends, but I’m actually not sorry he won’t be at school today; all the other kids will be talking about the trip. By Monday, when Tim is likely to be all recovered, it won’t be such a hot topic anymore.

Of course, at eighth grade graduation two years from now, Tim will be missing from a lot of the images in the customary slide show. No ropes course for him; no campfire skits; no peering-out-of-the-cabin photos with the other guys. It’s a lesson all of us learn at some point: how to weather the disappointment of being sidelined when everyone else is off doing something great.

He’s okay with it, though. His group of friends had already planned an afternoon ice cream excursion for next week, and there’s a school dance the week after that. He’ll get back into the swing of things. And someday, like my mother with her tumbling show, he’ll be okay with remembering the outdoor education trip specifically for the fact that he missed it.

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