It is July, which means an inevitable camp post. I can close my eyes and hear the Loma Linda screen doors slam. I can smell the river water mixed with vinegar ear drops. I can feel the cut of the grate of the catwalk on my bare feet and the uncomfortable way the sheet always slips off in the night and you wake up stuck to your mattress. These days I am way too old for camp but apparently it has found some way to infiltrate all my senses and my heart. Permanently.
I could not wait to send my kids.
I want him to have the same crazy memories and nicknames and stories about scraped knees, bathing suits ripped on the rapids, raccoons eating contraband snacks but mostly feeling like the summer was mine. For three weeks in July I left my parent’s world behind for an unairconditioned dorm, sub par food and not nearly enough showers for the number of girls who needed them. In return I had thirty new roommates, inside jokes, new tan lines, a fully packed caboodle and a sense of who I was on my own. Even more memorable than my summers spent as a camper were the ones where I donned a staff shirt. All the fun of camp, except this time I got nights off, to ride the truck up the hill and break into the dining hall when I needed a midnight snack.
Those summers drained me the way only loving well can. I took my job seriously. Sort of. I mean I loved my campers and didn’t want any of them to sneak out, get hurt or do anything illegal. Mostly my goal was to show them a good time. To throw dance parties in the alcove, to ambush other dorms with water guns and toilet paper. To run things that didn’t quite belong up the flag pole and occasionally share my heart in the circle of girls at devotionals that almost ended with someone playing a song and no less than a half a dozen girls in Micheal W. Smith tears. As I grew a little older, I focused just a more on the heart than the fun. I shared my doubts and my faith and loved them as best I could….and then I turned the lobby into a slip and slide or helped short sheet someone’s bed.
Maturity has never been my biggest attribute.
This past week, I drug my own footlocker out of the attic. Emptied it of all the mixed tapes, letters and beanie babies and started filling it with athletic shorts, t-shirts and swimsuits. I had fought with my husband for years to send my son to camp and he finally caved. Just one week at a camp relatively close by. My husband worried about his asthma, his swimming abilities, his introvertedness, how small he is and I just worried that he might never change into any of these clean pairs of tiny little boxers I was folding neatly into his trunk.
Yesterday we drove east to drop him off. Counselors were ready, cheering and welcoming at the gates. My son was nervous in the back seat. Tess spied and horse and immediately starting asking if she could stay too.
And suddenly it got real.
We unloaded his footlocker. Dropped off packages and inhalers and nailed the swim test. It was like some scene from Lord of the Flies. Boys were flying on giant swings, playing gaga ball, putt putt and basketball. The parking lot was clearing out, Owen wanted to try out the swing and it was clearly getting time for anyone over the age of 21 to disappear. And suddenly my memories of being a camper and a counselor were drowned out by the fact that now I am a mom. The girl who helped us unload our footlocker told Owen his counselor’s name was Mullet. I spied him on the basketball court and very uncooly interrupted the game to introduce my son. I quickly mentioned his inhaler and that it was his first time here.What I really wanted to say was..... This is my son. My kid. Guard him. Protect him. He might get scared at night. Don’t let the other kids tease him. He is sometimes hesitant to try new things, but if you are patient and push him a little he will do it. He is funny and smart but if he has been in the grass he will need to take a shower at night or he won’t be able to breathe. Like him. Pretend to be interested in Pokeman. Compliment him. Laugh at his jokes even when they don’t make sense. Remind him to brush his teeth and please please just keep him alive until Saturday.
But I didn’t say those things. I hugged him hard. (my son, not his counselor) and walked back to the car and drove the two hours back home in an unusual quiet convincing myself that Mullet sounded like a perfectly responsible name.
About midnight I was wishing for a full bottle of Xanex. And I am not usually an anxious girl. But I pictured all kind of horrible scenarios. I prayed and hoped he was having an amazing time because I was not sure I’d survive the week. And if you know me that is crazy talk. I usually don’t worry ENOUGH about my kids, I hardly recognized this girl tossing and turning all night. I wondered if parents of my campers had felt the same way when they dropped off their kids.
I thought about the difference I suddenly saw in my students when my son finally went to kindergarten. You see, I love what I do and my content and take it seriously. I want to teach well. But, when I packed my sons lunch that first day and sent him on his way I prayed mostly for a teacher who would like him, love on and encourage him more than what she actually taught him. My job and my students suddenly looked different.
As a counselor I wanted my kids to have a memorable summer. As a teacher I wanted my students to learn my content, but as a mom I want my son safe and loved.
People mostly refer to God as a father. And if you force me to pick a pronoun…I usually even use He, but…In my restless state last night….while praying and wondering if it was too late to take another Tylonal PM I thought that maybe God as a mother might be the more powerful image.
I mean no one ever mentions “Papa Bear”…it is the “Momma Bear” you have to look out for. It is a love that is fierce and protective. The momma bears who send their kids out into the world. To kindergarten, or camp or college and lose sleep worrying if they will have someone to eat lunch with. If they can tie their shoes or if they will remember to separate their lights from their darks when they do laundry.
A constant tension between loving them ferociously and still wanting them to be who they are supposed to be and have their own experiences.
And it is so hard. My son is only 9.
He is tiny. He has bad asthma. He is afraid of the dark.
I want to keep him close and safe and most of all alive.
But I also want him to fly down ziplines, bellyslide through the mud and take a few trail rides.
I’m not sure how God the father would handle this, probably with a little more sleep than I seemed to be getting. But I think I have a better picture of God the mother. The mother God, who loves ferociously and protectively and still finds a way to let go. A God who gives choice and experience and lets us become whoever it is we are meant to be. And one who loses sleep and pursues us when we start to become who we shouldn’t.
My son is hopefully making his own memories this week. In all my free time not sleeping, I pray that he finds God the father and God the mother in the woods of East Texas. And also that he doesn’t lose his inhaler and remembers to change his underwear at least once.