It all began when Asher, Michael and I went to see the sleep away camp that Asher was going to be attending for the first time this year. He is 10 ½, very skinny and very fair skinned with freckles along his cheeks and nose. I call Asher and Tova my Café con Leche. She is the café. He is the leche. What will he eat? He will never put sunscreen on I thought but didn’t say it out loud. What if he drops 10 pounds and becomes weak and unable to hike? He would go without food, water or sleep I think if we didn’t somehow force him to do all three of those vital things that sustain life!
We are still at the camp marching around with other would-be campers and their worried and eager parents asking lots of questions. I tend to not ask too many questions partly because I didn’t want to spook Asher or irritate him with my incessant gabbing. He has been known to look at me and say, “Okay Mom I got it. Can you stop now?” He, like his father is a guy of few but important words. So when we were walking along the trail back from seeing the cabins. He asks, “How long am I going to stay here?” Michael told him a week. He says, “ I would stay a month if I can.” Okay, this wasn’t said in an overly excited skipping way of a kid who is caught up in the moment. Asher was serious and determined. He had seen the archery field, the rock-climbing zone and ropes course and his decision was crystal clear unwavering in fact.
We all went up to the director and asked about a longer session. The longest is 3 weeks and we booked it then and there. He was proud of his decision and repeatedly said, “My cousins go for like 2 months back east.” He actually felt a little cheated! This is my son who is very independent, ragingly independent. I have been known to say but the longest he has slept away from his family was a weekend!
So I gathered up all the camp paperwork, which included what you need for the three weeks and where to buy gear. Asher would need a trunk, a real camp truck with wheels. I swear I could fit 2 or 3 Asher’s in this trunk, which I stupidly said out loud! Of course I told him never ever to go into the trunk and hide because you will die! I felt it important to strike the fear of death in him since suffocation was involved. All of Asher’s gear, which included 1 trunk, 1 duffle, 2 sets of sheets, a laundry bag, and a toiletry case, was in camouflage. His request. Yes, he plays war video games. He is most happy when he is fighting in WW11 against the Nazi’s, like his namesake Grandpa Marvin. So the camouflage is par for the course.
I chose the Wal Mart that had the most 4 stars which was in Rosemead, slightly farther than the closest one but well worth it. I went without him to buy the 5,000 other items needed to keep him alive, warm and not in the dark. His last request was this, “Mom get me some cool Camo tops, OK”. After 4 hours of shopping and two carts full of stuff I was heading home in my minivan hearing all my bags rattling around. My mind started rattling. My little boy going into an unknown world confident and strong excited for any and all adventures that await him around the next corner. Freedom. Young fearless and free. I was happy.
As I am packing this very large trunk full of green and khaki clothes I couldn’t help think it seemed like I was sending my son to Israel to join the IDF with all this Camo and not some peaceful, crunchy granola Jewish camp in the Southern California mountains! Clothes help form and reinforce our identity. For Asher’s first over-night camp experience being tough and strong was a good way to go I thought especially since as I said he is on the skinny side.
So a couple of nights before he is leaving I am in my bedroom. The Camo trunk on bed, stamp with his name on it in hand labeling every single item that will be in his trunk. He helped as much as he could or as I would let him as I was anxiously trying to finish before midnight. The pitfalls of being a working mom who is clearly having control issues around her son going to camp for 3 weeks. Every 20 minutes or so I ask Asher to come in my room so I can show him where everything will be in the trunk, his toothbrush, the flashlights, extra batteries, bandanas he requested, soap (which I seriously doubt will be used) and his 16 pairs of underwear. He drags himself in and pretends to look, seriously, pretends and says “mom relax, it’s fine don’t worry”. Easy for him to say as I am stamping envelops with his our addresses on it in case he wants to write us. Please, he barely talks, you think he is going to write us and expand on his experiences at camp! My husband said the only thing he would ever write to his mother from camp was to “send more candy”. This has been disappointingly confirmed by her.
Now we are at the drop off zone where Asher will be loaded onto a bus and driven to the camp with what will become some of his new best friends. My mom, Michael, Tova and I stand on the sidewalk waving as he boards the big beautiful yellow school bus with a smile I haven’t seen since before my dad died this past March. Deep and contented joy. My heart at once melts and soars knowing he had made the right decision for himself. He knew better then me that he would be fine. My peaceful motherly moment of joy was only broken by Tova’s wailing cries that she was going to miss Asher so much. She had her little face buried in my side unable to watch him leave. Such sibling love is beautiful to watch but I must admit when Tova looked up at me with a little smile and her eyes dry as the desert I knew in part this was a dry cry for attention but still deserving of lots of hugs and reassurance.
When we went on the camp website that first night to eagerly scan for pictures of Asher from his arrival just hours before Michael and I were both sort of shell-shocked. Our son is in the dark, hopefully with a flashlight, which was conveniently packed in the upper left quadrant of his trunk, making his way to his first ever campfire. After seeing 300 pictures of cute kids we could care less about we spot him! He had changed into a new Camo shirt and was dancing in the mess hall! I screamed, “He opened his trunk! He found a new shirt!” My relief was greater than my joy. The relief of knowing that my boy is well on his way to independence was overwhelming. With tears coming down my cheeks, I say to Michael, “I just hope he brushes his teeth!”