Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Letters from camp (that are brief and inscrutable)

Months ago, when I signed up both kids for camp programs during this last week of July, I started thinking of it as "the West family All-Star break," because it reminded me of that brief interlude halfway through the Major League Baseball season when all the players get a break.

From that early vantage point, this particular week seemed to hold the potential to be a unique midsummer interlude for me. With Tim away at baseball camp in the Berkshires, it would mean significantly less cooking, less cleaning, less grocery shopping, less laundry -- and no evening baseball games to attend. And even though Holly’s program is at a local day camp, it still means no Disney TV shows yammering away in the background when I'm drafting articles, and no responsibility for me to plan her day's activities. I envisioned a stretch of five consecutive days when I had nothing to think about except my own tasks, errands, and work assignments.

But I didn't count on the fact that with it being Tim's first time at overnight camp, I'd be too anxious about his well-being to enjoy my All-Star Break Week Off at all.

Now that the week is under way, I'm trying hard to appreciate it for what it is: a week that provides a break from the busy jobs I juggle all summer long, typically an amalgam of meeting deadlines, keeping the house clean, and keeping the kids busy enough to be happy and social but unscheduled enough that they can relax and be resourceful about how to enjoy themselves.

But instead, I'm mostly just spending the time fretting about whether Tim is okay.

It's not that we have no way to be in touch with him. Though cell phone use isn’t allowed during the day, the camp allows the kids to text-message their parents for a few minutes before bed every night. But the texts we've received from Tim are not exactly what I would consider updates on his well-being; in fact, they require translation from Rick.

"What did he say?" I asked Rick excitedly when I heard Rick's text-message notification buzz at 9:03 last night.

Rick handed over his phone so that I could read their five-minute text-dialogue myself. "At SS, started off a 6-4-3," Tim wrote. "1st at-bat grounded to second off 80+ mph pitch; 2nd time walked."

"Why is he writing in code?" I asked Rick. "More importantly, how is he? Has he made friends? How's the food? Has he been sleeping well? Does he miss us very much?"

"He initiated a double-play from shortstop," Rick replied. "And he hit a grounder to second."

"But how is he?" I demanded again.

"He broke out of a season-long hitting slump and led a double-play!" Rick answered. "So he's doing great!"

I'm not sure I believe him. "Doing great," to my mind, would include phrases like "Camp has been fantastic!" and "I'm having a wonderful time!" and "The counselors are fun and the other kids are nice to me!" That's what a mother yearns to hear the first time her son goes to overnight camp. After all, he waited almost 15 years to ascend this milestone; now that we're here, I'd like a little information.

But very little more is forthcoming. The campers are allotted five minutes per evening for texting, and Tim apparently wishes to use those five minutes for telling his father his fielding and hitting stats rather than for allaying his mother's primal anxieties about his well-being.

Going to camp for the first time is a milestone for him, but I have to concede that it's one for me as well. As a kid, and well into my teen years -- okay, pretty much until my second attempt at college -- I had a terrible time leaving home. And my separation anxiety was, hands-down, the flaw I least wanted to see my children inherit.

Tim may not have much to say when it comes to communicating with me this week, but this much I can deduce: he's at camp and he's doing okay. And I'm doing okay too. He's learning to get by while away from home; I'm learning that he is his own person and may not choose to communicate his thoughts, feelings and experiences exactly as I might wish. I'm learning that this rite of passage for me as a mother means accepting that I simply won't know what he's doing and how he's feeling every moment of the day.

So I'll have to be content with the news that he executed a 6-4-3 from SS. It's not exactly the information I would wish to have, given that it tells me nothing about whether he's eating or sleeping well or even remembering to take regular showers, but for now, for this first week away, that's what he’s chosen to impart. I'll have to trust him to eat, sleep, wash, and be reasonably happy. And I'll have to trust Rick that a 6-4-3, whatever that might mean, is evidence enough of his well-being.

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