I remember the first days of summer camp: my sister and I wore white tee-shirts and sailor-style forest-green shorts with red name tags safety-pinned to them. We wore our hair in identical pigtails tied with yarn. Every morning, rubbing our arms in the chill air, we boarded the bus for the seemingly endless trip to the wilds of Scarsdale.
Once there, we swam, made lanyards, and sang songs. I remember a particular song called "500 Miles" by Peter, Paul and Mary, which always made me feel deeply uneasy, as if by hearing it I would magically be transported 500 miles away from my own home. It went like this:
In reality, camp was closer to 20 than 500 miles, but it still felt very far away, and very grown up. I was anxious during a great deal of the day, knowing that my parents were a long bus ride away, but I eventually eased into the groove and started to enjoy myself.
So it didn't surprise me too much to get this note from Isaac's teacher today, the first day of camp (thankfully just a mere mile away):
"I think Isaac had a pretty good first day. He was able to identify his friends from school and meet new friends. We sat down for a woods meeting, hiked to the potty and the woods, had snack, wrote in our journals, played a group game and ate lunch together. Isaac did have some difficulty during woods meeting when [teacher] explained to the children how we keep safe from dogs and poison ivy. Isaac became anxious when she mentioned the dogs..."
Yeah. We've had a lot of that lately--anxiety about several things, noise in particular. At first I was sort of alarmed--I don't want him to be this anxious--but it also reminded me of those mornings, waiting for the bus and thinking "I don't want to go to camp today. I'd rather stay home with Mommy." But I eventually boarded the bus, and I sang with the best of them, and I made art projects and played foursquare and dodgeball and endured that horrible, suffocating feeling of first learning to swim.
I was seven, maybe eight at the time. And typically-developing.
Maybe this whole thing affects me this way because with each passing milestone (and year), I see how hard Isaac works at the business of growing up. And like many parents, I am both excited and terrified by his new abilities and the dangers they present.
He's proving to be a resilient boy, my Isaac. He's expressing his feelings more fluidly these days, and the result is that I--we--have to face them head on. When I called home tonight before leaving work, I heard him say very clearly to J: "I'm worried about the meadow" (the meeting-place for camp). And so we're telling stories about noise and dogs and buses and all sorts of things, in the hope that each story, each slender thread, is enough to help him cope, to pull him through his day to a kind of peace, growing up--and happiness.
* Postcard in photo courtesy of my nine-year-old self, written during my very first summer at sleepaway camp.