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Visiting My Son at Sleepaway Camp

Visiting My Son at Sleepaway Camp

Midway through summer, mom Randi Olin packs her son’s favorite snacks into the car and treks to sleepaway camp for family day. She’ll have to bid him goodbye again, but not before some wistful angst and a little ping-pong. Read her story about visiting her child at sleepaway camp. 

My 11-year-old son, Daniel, left three weeks ago for seven weeks of sleep away camp and my husband and I were headed to the Berkshires for parent visiting day. During our most recent telephone conversation, Daniel’s food and drink request of “you know what I like” set my maternal motor running in overdrive, giving my week leading up to visiting day an added purpose. I spent days making lists of his favorite candy and snacks and set out on my own version of a scavenger hunt. I made sure to pick up his favorite kind of bagel—an everything bagel, the kind not just with poppy and sesame seeds but with added garlic and salt specks too. 

After I closed the trunk, I made my way to the passenger seat of the car. My husband put his hand on my leg and asked “ready?” And, at that moment, I couldn’t help but wonder whether I was mentally prepared for the day ahead, knowing it only meant saying goodbye all over again.

I couldn’t find a comfortable position during our two-hour drive up to my son’s all-boys camp. As we neared Becket, I closed my eyes and began to think about Daniel. Would he look any different? Will he hug me in front of his friends? Did he lose a tooth and, if so, did the tooth fairy leave anything for my 11-year-old boy? 

When we finally pulled up, we parked our car in a makeshift parking lot, on a vast empty field directly across the street from the camp entrance. “I guess we’re not early,” I said to my husband, looking at the half full lot. “We’re not late. We’re good, less time to stand around waiting,” he responded. 

We crossed the street with the flow of the pedestrian traffic and all I could think about was how much I needed to see my son, how I couldn’t wait to hug him, touch his soft skin and tell him how much I loved him. The long dirt road leading to camp was directly ahead of me—I knew that somewhere down there was Daniel, and I pictured his freckled round face and his big toothy grin and his crew cut now three weeks grown in. Close to 200 adults were already at the camp entrance, some over at the table set up with donuts, coffee, and juice. Others worked their way through the crowd as they socialized with other parents. I, however, needed a spot, a place to settle into, to put my bags down and wait. 

I couldn’t help but compare my collection of shopping bags packed with sour gummy worms, watermelon chunks, and homemade banana bread to the oversized igloos, pizza, and Chinese food boxes all around me. And then there were the colossal buckets overflowing with enough candy to feed a child for a year, wrapped like presents, with cellophane and cascading colorful ribbon.

“What time is it?”  I asked my husband. “One minute later than the last time you asked,” he answered as he put his arm around me. I looked ahead and then behind me, overwhelmed by the several hundred parents now corralled into the greeting area. And then, like the start of a race, the crowd began to move. First slowly, and then the pace picked up. People grabbed their bags and some started to run, zigzagging until they found open space. My husband and I stuck together and the swell of the crowd propelled us ahead. I couldn’t feel my legs moving but I made it further up the road and passed the hockey rink and the soccer fields to my right and left, respectively. Staff members held clipboards to direct parents to their son’s first-period activity. “Basketball, lower camp,” a counselor told us and pointed out the shortest way to get to the courts.

My husband and I started to walk in that direction. But then, like a reflex, the urgency of the moment took over. We started to run and, with our bags flopping by our sides, we passed the outdoor theater, followed by lower-camp bunks, and, as we turned the corner, the basketball courts were in full view. A row of 10- and 11-year-old boys stood at the edge of the courts, all in their bright red camp shirts, all waiting for their parents to arrive.

And then, I saw my son. He was fidgeting, moving back and forth, talking to the other boys as he waited. And suddenly, our eyes locked and he smiled, his grin so big it went all the way up to his eyes. He hesitated momentarily and then began an all-out sprint. I dropped my bags and ran toward him. Then I stopped, crouched down, and opened my arms as far as they could go. He ran into my arms and I cried and laughed at the same time, hugging my son, taking in the familiar scent of his hair, feeling the smooth skin on his arms. I put my hands onto his cheeks, looked into his eyes, and smiled. 

The three of us walked toward the bunk, just past the ping-pong tables. I tried to push away thoughts of Daniel later, back at his room, pulling out the baseball cards and the light-up yo-yo and the sour gummy worms I would have left behind. After today I wouldn’t see my son for another four weeks. But perhaps I can take comfort in knowing that, tucked in what I left behind, was a piece of me.

“Want to play some ping-pong?” He asked. “You know I do,” I answered. And, just like that, I stopped thinking about the end of the day and instead headed over to play ping-pong with my boy.   

Postscript: This summer is my son’s 8th and final summer at sleep-away camp—and my last time attending parent visiting day in the Berkshires. I’ll miss that first moment of the day when I spot my son on the courts or the fields, when we say hello with a hug. He gives me half-hugs now, my teen, but I’ll take it. Any kind of hug from my boy is worth everything.

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Author: Randi Olin lives in Connecticut with her husband and two teens. She is the managing editor at Brain, Child Magazine. Her work has appeared in Brain, Child, Role/Reboot, Modern Loss, and The Weston Magazine Group, among other publications. Read Olin’s previous contribution to our magazine at See More

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