July 16th, 2013
My youngest son, age 10, was a little nervous about spending a week at Boy Scout camp. He knew the scouts don’t prissy around with luxury items like cabins and food that anyone might actually want to eat. But that wasn’t what worried him. It was the homesickness.
My husband and I made a plan. At scout camp, the troop parents are expected to help staff the campsite; I would go down and stay over the first night, my husband would do the last night, and our older son, an Eagle Scout, would do a night in the middle.
As it turns out, this was a really bad plan.
That first afternoon and evening, every time I thought he was starting to settle in, he’d take one look at me and well up. The next morning was even worse. At the mess hall, over a breakfast of pancakes that tasted like sweetened dish sponges, he could barely hold it together.
“I’m right here!” I wanted to say to him. How could he be sad with his mother actually sitting 3 feet away from him—and what would it be like when I left? Mushrooms of anxiety were starting to grow in my own stomach, and no, it wasn’t the pancakes. After a tearful goodbye, I spent the whole ride home lobbing up prayers that he would be okay, that other kind parents and kids would somehow comfort him.
And that is exactly what happened. I got texts from the other parents. Apparently, once I left, the big neon sign blinking “HOME, HOME, HOME” over my head left with me. He began to hang out with the other scouts, practice his knot-tying and tell fart jokes just like everyone else.
A couple of days later, when his big brother came back from his stint at camp I practically tackled him. “How is he?” I demanded.
“What?!” I’d been so sure that was behind us. “Do you think it was harder with you there?”
“How do you know?”
“Because he told me so. He said, ‘I keep thinking about how you’re going home without me.’”
Home. I guess it’s nice to know that he loves it so much. I never really felt that way myself growing up. In fact, I couldn’t wait to jump ship. Home was not the full fridge, people keeping regular hours, generally predictable and happy place my kids know. I was always certain of my parents’ love, but beyond that, a lot of it was pretty much up for grabs.
Thus, I wasn’t really prepared for my reaction to seeing Paul McCartney in concert last week. Flooded with memories from my childhood, I found myself slightly teary, uncharacteristically nostalgic for a place I had often found fault with. My mother rarely had anything in the way of disposable income, but when she did, she bought records—cool stuff like Steve Wonder and Joni Mitchell and, yes, The Beatles. We played them so continuously it’s a wonder they didn’t disintegrate into black vinyl dust.
I sang my way through my childhood, and those songs became a sort of home for me.
Books, too, became a home. I read every single Laura Ingalls Wilder book, secretly longing for the solidity of Ma and Pa, the sweet smell of baking pies, the warmth of a never-dying fire, and the safety of a fortress-like log cabin.
My own children trend toward dystopian fiction, which I still can’t quite get over. Why would they want to read book after book about post-apocalyptic misery, even if things eventually work themselves out in the end (sort of, after a serious stretch of gruesomeness, and in a still vaguely anxiety-ridden way)?
But maybe my husband and I have sown the seeds of their literary tastes by providing a home that is so contrary to all of that. So predictable and safe, despite the vicissitudes of childhood and adolescence. So comfortable, despite the fights over underperformed chores, over-consumed junk food, and whether it’s absolutely necessary for us to call the parents of their party-throwing friends “just to touch base.”
When my husband went down for that last night at scout camp, our son was having a blast. He’d made friends, learned all the kooky scout songs, and was happily filthy. He could enjoy himself knowing that his dad wouldn’t be going home without him.
He says he definitely wants to go back next year. I will not be joining him. I will be home, making sure the fridge is full and the home fires are burning (or the AC is cranked up) when he returns.
Maybe I’ll even throw on some Beatles tunes and bake a pie.