At 10 years old, he had been on many sleepovers without me there to keep watch over him. And he just got back from a week with his dad and never even called me once while he was gone. So it wasn’t like he didn’t know how to be away from me. But still, camp was different. It’s easier for a kid to get lost in the shuffle, being surrounded by so many other campers. I didn’t worry about whether he would mind the rules. It was pretty much guaranteed the pool would be his bathtub, and gunk would have to be chiseled off his teeth when I picked him up at the end of the week. I didn’t even stress about whether he would eat enough, as my boy is not one to skip a meal. But I did worry if he would make friends, or talk to anyone during the day. While the Taz has many friends at school, the awkward age he’s at now makes it difficult to leave his self-consciousness and meet someone new.
With so many kids around, it’s easy to find a friend. But it’s also easy to not say a word throughout the day, and spend time sitting all alone at meals.
I visited camp mid-week to help out and, yes, because I knew I’d miss the kids too much not to. Both of them were happy to see me, even my teen, DQ. But it was the Taz whose face lit up when he caught sight of me after three days away. Just moments before, his face held no emotion as he walked without energy towards the dining area for lunch. But when I called his name, he immediately lit up at the sound of something familiar, searching to find my face. And his energy returned as he ran up the steps to greet me.
He promised me he had made a bunch of friends. He named them off one by one when I asked, and I was pleased to know he was doing so well. But when I glanced over to him as I ate, I was dismayed to find that he was sitting alone. He sat near me after lunch to show me the letters he received from home, and I encouraged him to go play with some boys at the basketball court.
“I don’t know them,” he said shyly. “And they probably won’t play with me.”
This wasn’t like the Taz at home. Before we had even moved in with Mr. W, he had made good friends with the kids down the street. At school he seemed to have plenty of friends. But here? His confidence was gone and he was all alone. While he still went off on his own while I was there at camp, I saw he was happiest when he knew I was around. We played ping pong together, and then I watched him jump off the diving board at the pool.
And at least a dozen times, he asked if he could just come home with me when it was time to go.
I refused, of course. He only had two days left, and this was good for him. It was good for me too. I needed to not run to his side every time I felt he was uncomfortable. I really wanted to introduce him to some kids, find a way they could all play together, and create some friendships for him so I could leave knowing he was having a good time. But that wasn’t my job, it was his. And so I stayed out of it.
It was late in the afternoon when the radio in the dining hall was turned on as loud as the teens could make it without blasting us out of the forest. Without direction, kids made their way to the tables and stomped their feet in time with the beat. The music surrounded all of us. A group of girls led a line dance on several of the tables, dancing country to the hip-hop groove. On another table, a group of kids jumped and laughed. And in the back, my son was in the center of a bunch of kids, showing off his dance moves effortlessly. Dancing was something he loved to do, and would do without abandon. And darned if my kid isn’t a brilliant dancer! Yet, he was neither center of attention or totally ignored. Instead, he was one of the crowd, a part of this movement and energy that invited more and more to join in. And soon almost the whole camp was there, dancing away in a spontaneous dance party until it really was time to turn the music off and get ready for dinner.
“Can I come home with you?” the Taz asked me one more time that evening. It was mere minutes before campfire was over. The camp was going to go on a night hike. I was going to drive back down the hill and go home. I smiled at him and shook my head no.
“You’ll be fine,” I told him, kissing his head as I got ready to leave.
And I knew that he would. He might not be having the same experience as I did. He might be stuck a bit in his awkwardness. There would be times when he would be alone, and that would feel uncomfortable. Heck, it’s uncomfortable for all of us – from being a self-conscious tween to an insecure adult. But there would also be times when everyone banded together and he would feel like he belonged.
And who was I to take that away from him?
This awkwardness, it will pass. He’ll survive it. After all, it’s just a part of growing up. And in all this, I think I’m growing up too.