Saturday, after eight hours spent in the car with a baby who’s still nursing and a four-year old who got so car sick she vomited bile, I entered the dining room at my son’s camp and began frantically scanning the tables. But before I could find him, he found me, running toward me in a haze of golden hair and too tanned skin, bare feet, yogurt-stained shorts and a misbuttoned blue and white oxford. “You’re here!” he exclaims.
“Your son’s very independent,” his counselor tells me. At home, my son cannot tie his shoes, be trusted to put his dirty clothes in the hamper and asks for a massage every night at bedtime. “That’s nice,” I say quickly, dismissively. “But I hope he’s not too independent. I mean, I think it’s nice to have close friends and not be so independent that–” “He’s healthy,” she says, interrupting.
This woman knows from healthy. She is thin but not skinny, has dark brown hair punctuated by a few stray grays, and has a no-nonsense way about her which makes sense once you learn that she is a lacrosse and field hockey coach during the school year — “I like sticks,” she tells me – and went to Miss Porter’s – “I’m a boarding school person.”
Later, while we wait to be dismissed to Evening Activity, I ask her what she’s been reading. “There’s this big bookshelf on the way to the bathroom,” she says, “and every time I walk past I simply. . . . .” The bathroom? I had meant what she was reading as the bedtime story to my son and his tentmates but all I can think now is: has my son been able to go even once since he got here?
This is just one of the many things that I did not think about at all till coming to Visiting Day. My son’s teeth look a little gray; has he been brushing enough? His hair smells like something died in it. “Don’t worry,” he says, “I don’t have lice.” Lice?! Who said anything about lice? He tells me he needs a thirty-two ounce water bottle to go on an overnight. Overnight? You’re already here, I feel like shouting, isn’t this overnight enough?! And why is he wearing yogurt-stained shorts when I know, as per his camp packing list, that he’s got four other pairs to choose from? “Because I can,” he tells me.
We swim together in the lake and though I too once swam in lakes I am surprised to see this through my now-mother eyes, how dark, the water, how deep. “Mom, do the high-dive!” he calls as he jumps off a seven-foot ledge plunging mercilessly into the water.
Later, after the square dance, the sun will set in a hot pink orangey sky whose colors have nothing to do with pollution. “Can my Mom tuck me in?” he asks his counselor, and my heart soars. There is his longing, who knew, the twin of mine, and then the prospect of the thing itself, to tuck him in, and here!, in a tent under the stars. It is just the thing we need, I think, a new memory that will carry us forward through these next three weeks apart. “Too disruptive,” his counselor chides. And much as I envy, and even resent her right then, I also can’t help but acknowledge the truth: My son is managing well enough without me and isn’t that the point?