Visiting My Son at Sleepaway Camp
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“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.