The boys left for a week of Boy Scout summer camp yesterday. Were they excited?
The sixteen-year-old was literally bouncing with happiness at the thought of leaving for camp—for many reasons but mainly because the Troop was headed back to his favorite camp, which he hasn’t seen in three years. As I sat at the computer on Saturday evening, he was sitting on my exercise ball, bouncing away as he told me of his plans to set up his hammock and sleep there rather than in his tent. When he was younger, many of the older boys did this and they were quite the envy of the rest of the troop. (All except for the guy who didn’t secure his hammock very well and ended up falling between 6 and 8 feet down to the hard ground. Why was he up that high? You must not have a teenager if you’re wondering about that.) The sixteen-year-old was looking forward to his turn. He even asked his dad to cut a little mat from a carpet remnant, that he could place on the ground next to the hammock. To give the space a homey feeling or to merely have something to wipe his feet on, I’m still not clear of his reasoning, seeing as though he’ll be OUTSIDE in camp all week. Does one need a carpet on the ground next to the hammock? Doubtful. However, if this indulged his desire to have the coolest personal space at the campsite, it was a simple enough thing to go along with.
The thirteen-year-old was a different story. He was, by default as the younger brother, always the one left at home with Mom once the older one started Boy Scouts. The younger one was still in Cub Scouts, but Boy Scouts is an entirely different thing when it comes to camping. Jim and the older boy went camping with the troop almost monthly for a weekend each time, especially during the time when Jim was the Scoutmaster. The younger one and I stayed home and had our own special fun, usually renting movies and eating pizza. Sometimes a field trip to a fun place was planned, like going to paint our own ceramics or out to dinner. We always made the most of our “free weekend”. Two years ago when he finally graduated to Boy Scouts, goofy things started happening with the campouts: some of them got cancelled due to lack of parent participation (I hate that), and some of them included activities that our boys don’t want to do, like skiing. As a result, the camping frequency in this house slowed to molasses speed.
When they did go, Jim and the older boy packed like pros. They knew what they needed and seemed to have a little language all their own. They had conversations about how fun the trip would be and what they would cook. The younger boy, though asking for help when he needed it, didn’t express the same anticipation when packing. He seemed to pack as if he were on his way to a life sentence. We found out why, on their first campout together, a caving trip in southern Illinois. The younger boy got terribly homesick. Let me correct that. His father was with him, so “homesick” doesn’t really describe his affliction. He was MOMsick, which was, perhaps, not as bad as Homesickness because his Dad was there, but he was still missing his happy place.
Don’t get me wrong; he’s no Mama’s Boy in the traditional sense. At least I don’t think he is. He doesn’t constantly hang around near me at home. He is not always asking for approval. He does not open up and share emotion with me unless I drag it out of him. I don’t coddle him. I do not chase him around, making sure he gets everything he ever wanted. I think he just, well, likes me. I’m fun to be around, usually. (except for when I’m leaving him chore lists) I, as his Mother, provide a sense of home and comfort for him. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
But this Momsickness makes me crazy. Of course I have compassion for him, being far away from home and all of that, and I realize he would, naturally, rather not be Momsick; it’s a wee bit out of his control. He just mentally can’t get to the point yet where he can completely enjoy himself when he’s away.
He had it bad when they all went to camp two years ago. He has had it in smaller doses on the weekend campouts that they’ve attended. A few weeks ago when the three of them went to Georgia for their kayaking trip, he had it for a day but I’m convinced it’s because he was overtired: they were all running on just a couple of hours of sleep and he just wanted to come home.
I am not a believer in coddling a homesick kid and allowing him to call all the time for reassurance; I believe that makes it worse. When Jim let him call from Georgia, I was very matter-of-fact, telling him that I hoped he was having fun so far and that I looked forward to seeing his photos. I told him that I loved him, told him to have fun, and we got off the phone. He did great the rest of the week.
Jim wasn’t going with them this time, so our antennas were up a bit and we wanted to give the boy some coping tools. I sent each boy a greeting card several days ago, including a couple extra bucks to spend at the trading post. (They should receive them tomorrow or Wednesday.) Inside the younger boy’s “blank inside” card, I used one of his favorite Brian Regan jokes and wrote “Sorry you’re feeling so Blank Inside!” (as well as other things).
I arranged to get a small package of goodies to the boys through another troop parent who is headed up Wednesday (normally Jim takes a package with him and leaves it in his car until midweek). The boys don’t know about the cards or the package. They also don’t know that Jim and I plan to drive up there on Friday to surprise them for the Family Dinner. We’ll return home that night (4 hours drive each way) because I have to teach on Saturday, but the boys will be headed home on Saturday morning anyway. We didn’t tell them of all these things because the younger boy would focus on them and not camp. We also, in the last few days, had a few conversations about being homesick. We told him that the best remedy for feeling homesick is to stay busy. We told him to make the most out of camp because he would be experiencing so many things (Swimming in a lake! Shooting arrows! Shooting shotguns! Tenting with his best friend! Campfires! Brothers with hammocks!) that he can’t experience at home. He always nodded in agreement, and we thought that his worry was mostly gone.
On Saturday night, he approached us in a cloud of mystery and asked us to follow him to the basement because he needed our help with something. We looked at each other wondering what he was up to and then followed him. He led us to a small pile of mementos including a guitar pick, a crushed penny souvenir of someplace we had visited, a single die, and a Styx cassette tape.
I said, “What’s all this?”
He said, “Well, since Dad’s not going to camp and we won’t get a midweek package, I decided to make my own. I need to find a container for this stuff so I won’t see it all until it’s time to open it.”
“What are you going to do with Styx? You don’t even have a cassette player. What are you going to do, just sit and stare at it?”
He said, “Yeah. I just like it!”
Wow. I felt so sad, like a Loser Mom. My kid is making his own care packages??? I know, I know…we didn’t clue him in on our plans to intermittently cheer him up at camp, but for good reason. Was he thinking we didn’t care, or was he just doing a little bit of self-parenting: taking care of himself? Should we feel badly about it, like we’re neglecting his need to be comforted or should we feel proud that he was trying to come up with his own solutions?
I didn’t analyze it for too long while I was in the moment. Instead, I sprung into action. “Here” I said, “Go upstairs and at least let me add a few things that you don’t know about to the box.”
He scurried upstairs and I quickly looked for some small reminders of home that would be okay to send to camp. I grabbed a LEGO man and some star garland from his Bar Mitzvah while Jim printed some photos of each of us with the boy on his birthday. I had some 3” x 3” blank art canvases that I haven’t used for their original purpose yet, and pulled one out of the package. With a purple marker, I wrote on the canvas “Hi! We miss you! Love, Mom and Dad” and drew a big heart in the middle.
We tossed the extra items in the box and duct-taped it closed so he wouldn’t be able to peek until he was ready. We gave it to him and he excitedly put it with his backpack.
Yesterday morning he hand-carried the box to the place where the troop was meeting to divide into the various cars that would take them to camp. He nodded as we reassured him that he would have a great week and we were looking forward to hearing all about it on Saturday. Last night at 10:30 he called us, sounding a little sad. We told him that we loved him and that he would have lots of fun this week, and that he shouldn’t call for a couple of days because he needed to focus on camp. After talking to him for a few minutes we spoke with his brother who told us that he was indeed melancholy. With as much sensitivity you would expect from an older brother who was attempting to be the Big Man on Campsite, he proclaimed, “Yeah, he’s quiet and won’t answer me when I ask him what’s wrong. He’s driving me crazy and should just get over it.” I told him that although it’s not his job to fix his brother’s homesickness, I would appreciate his tolerance and patience of the situation and he agreed that he could handle that.
Time will tell this week if he’ll stay busy enough to forget about what he’s missing. In the meantime, I’ve got to do some thinking about how we can stay one step ahead of him in the Parenting Department!