Three years ago I sent my three oldest kids off to summer camp at Catalina Island Camp. Camp was such an important and positive part of my childhood, I could not wait for my kids to experience something similar.
My youngest, four at the time, watched a little jealously as his siblings sailed off to camp. Much as he savored his special only-child time with us, he felt left out.
I can relate. I’m the youngest of four and it’s left me with a lifelong case of FOMO – fear of missing out. How many times did I peer out my bedroom window, watching tail lights recede into the night as my older siblings headed off on some wondrous adventure that I’d been deemed too little for.
We brought our son with us on visiting day that first summer, so he could see his siblings and this crazy amazing camp on an island – Catalina Island Camp or as we now refer to it… CIC.
Perhaps this was a little cruel. Showing him what he was missing only made it harder to wait. I remember the shocked and cheated look on his face as we sailed into camp. He seemed so young and tiny in the orange boat that was the exact same shade as his hair in the sunlight. His small jaw had a determined set and his blue eyes sparkled against the sunlit waves. The seed was already planted.
“Three more years till I can go too Mom!” he said
“Two more years mom…” he sighed as we watched the camp bound ferry disappear on the horizon the following year.
“Next summer this will be me!” he declared as we played our last game of Gaga on visiting day last year and his older brother bemoaned the fact he’d have to come home, eventually.
After years of Target runs for sunscreen for siblings and hours spent pouring over camp photos to find their pictures, last week it was finally Leo’s turn.
His clothing was labelled and his big blue, brand new camp bag was packed. The week before camp he went to Build a Bear and made a new, special stuffed animal to take with him – in case he got a little homesick. He was pretty sure he wouldn’t, but better safe than sorry. He couldn’t wait to meet his counselors and bunkmates on camp send off day.
It was a bittersweet send off for me. After all those years of planning and dreaming and waiting, the camp send off day coincided with a work trip for me. My husband headed to the port without me, texting photos as the counselors and other kids arrived.
I wished my son well via Facetime – feeling a little like the child I once was with my nose pressed against the glass. There goes the last of the firsts. My baby and a chunk of my soul walking around, sailing off without me.
Leo was the first one in line, and the first one on the camp bound ferry boat. He blew kisses to my tiny televised face and told me he loved me. Then like Tigger he turned and bounced the entire way down the gangplank, too excited to merely walk to the boat.
Perhaps it better I was only there in image and not in person. I might have been that ridiculous mom who clings a little too long and continues to wave a little too frantically when the boat has already sailed beyond seeing.
There’s no question in my mind that he’s having a great time. The photos floating back to me show him smiling, ebulliently airborne, sharing a joke with a peer. He’s doing archery and sea kayaking, all those big kid things he was so patiently waiting for.
My heart is bursting with happy for him. There’s nothing like that first taste of independence, that massive dose of self confidence and competence that a good camp experience delivers to your core. Even though I can’t wait for him to come home, I can’t think of anyplace better he could be right now.