The Taz stared out at me from the back of the bus, his hand frozen in mid-wave, and his eyes pleading with me to stop the bus. I never did, and just waved until he was finally out of sight.
Only moments before, he had been hugging me ferociously, making the moment last as long as he could until the bus driver told him he needed to get on. He pulled away and I could see tears in his eyes that he was only half heartedly trying to keep under wraps. He was on his way to camp, his first year without me. I had decided to take a year off of being an adult chaperone, and was seriously second guessing my decision as I said goodbye to my second child. Not for his sake, mind you, but for mine. I was jealous that they were about to go to one of my favorite places on earth without me. And besides, the experience of being away from me was good for both of them. My faithfully independent DQ was already at camp, enjoying her first year on the teen staff, and had done a terrible job hiding her glee that I wouldn’t be there. But the Taz was a different story, and this was not his favorite idea. However, I knew it would do the Taz some good to gather his camp identity without his mom there.
And, fine. I really was worried how the Taz would do if I wasn’t there.
It was only two years ago that I made the Taz graduate from sleeping in Girls’ Camp with me and move his bunk over to the boys’ side. He was vehemently against it. If it were up to him, I do believe that the Taz would have been perfectly ok sleeping next to me until he was 15. But at 8 years old, I couldn’t risk this becoming a permanent arrangement. So I helped him set up his bunk near one of the male chaperones I knew, and let him know I’d see him every day when he wasn’t sleeping. And when evening came, I kissed him goodnight, made him promise to brush his teeth, and then watched as he disappeared into the camp I was not allowed to enter.
Seeing him disappear wistfully behind the fence of the Boys’ Camp was much like letting him enter the public Men’s Bathroom all on his own for the first time. I don’t care how old the kid is, you still feel like a bad mom that very first time you let them enter a room full of strangers without you there to protect them.
But this was not a camp of strangers. Many of the boys on that side of camp were kids I had seen grow from my son’s age to the teenagers they had become. And they were all great kids. But still, this was my youngest, a boy who was unashamed by his need to have me close. And while I was taking the steps to give him a touch of independence, the experience was hard on both of us. And he spent the whole week wishing he could be with me instead of in some strange camp all on his own.
But he survived. And the next year, there wasn’t even a question where he would be bunking.
And now, in his 10th year of life, we were experiencing another hard, yet necesary, step towards independence. I was wearing sunglasses when he hugged me tight, so he couldn’t see the tears in my eyes when I realized he was fighting his own from spilling down his cheeks. ‘Don’t let him see you cry,’ I willed myself, knowing it would do him no favors. I also silently begged him not to cry either.
‘Dude, no one’s going to want to be friends with a crybaby.’
But I didn’t say it out loud. Instead, I cheerfully told him he would be fine, and that I loved him. He slumped onto the bus and made his way towards the back. And he pulled his window down so he could peek over the top of the window while waving goodbye. But he was forced to sit down when the bus driver ordered that everyone be seated so they could be on their way. And as the bus pulled away, he turned to look out the back and watch me as they departed. I kept reminding myself this was good for him. It was. He needed time away from me. He would be fine….
And the bus disappeared around the corner.
And in that moment, I gave a silent prayer that he would be ok without me there. Simultaneously, I wondered what the heck I was going to do with myself while both of my kids were gone, knowing all my identity was wrapped up in being their mom. And I realized that the Taz and me, we weren’t that much different.
So I added myself to that prayer of independence, that I would be ok too.