I can usually get a good read on my kids. I mean, I am their Dad and I’m around them quite a bit. I’ve been blessed to get to spend some ‘extra’ time with them the past couple of years during a few rounds of job-seeking so I think I can label myself a qualified expert in terms of interpreting their thoughts. I think most parents fall into this “expert” category when it comes to their children. You know when they’re not telling you the truth (mine both have a certain expression that they use during the act of fibbing). You know when something it bothering them, even if they don’t tell you and put up the front of everything being ok. It’s an expertise that comes with raising them and having them under your roof 24/7. So, when we picked Cam up from camp this past weekend, I thought that I had a good idea as to what his reaction to being there was going to be. What he shared with us shattered my parental assumption. (Yes, this is another camp story. I know, they have dominated the CTD blog here the past few weeks but it was the big thing in Cam’s life and it had a gluten-free relation so it’s been a popular topic. And, yes, there is going to be one more “interview” type of blog with Cam answering questions about his experience so you’ve been warned).
Mother Nature joined us for pick up much as she did for our drop off a week earlier. It wasn’t raining too much, just enough to be annoying. The camp had invited all of the parents, siblings, etc. who were there to pick up the campers, to join them in one last Chapel get-together down by the lake. They let us in at 9:00 and directed us to the amphitheater where this would take place. To get there, we had to walk past the dining hall where all the campers were finishing up breakfast and their morning routine. And, wow, was it loud in there. You could hear chants, cheers, singing, etc. as if you were right in the dining hall with them. After about 15 minutes, the campers came down to the amphitheater where the parents were all seated and waiting. As they settled in, each camper found their loved ones and gave them hugs. Cam found us and said “hi” (he even hugged his sister). I had a chance to ask him how his week was and he gave me a quick nod, a smile and said “good”. That was the reaction I expected. He’s never been one to share his emotions too much or to ramble on about something that has happened. He’s much more an observer than one to speak his mind (much like his mother and nothing like his old man). He then left to join his cabin at their assigned Chapel spot. Chapel consisted of prayers and songs and even a skit to share a life lesson. The agenda was cut short due to the rain picking up a bit more but at the end, all the campers linked arms, swayed back and forth, and sang a song about “until my friends are together again”. The singing was subdued, completely the opposite from the ruckus at breakfast. Some of the kids were emotional but Cam’s cabin (the 13-year old boys) looked as if they were having a competition of who could squeeze each other’s arms the hardest. Again, the expected reaction from him.
But then it changed. As they were dismissed, the campers stood up and were released to go and get their belongings. It was then that Cam turned and hugged one of his cabin mates. This was repeated three or four more times with other members of Cabin 13. I was taken aback. Now, I have no problem with hugging. I hug my friends all of the time. With my male friends, it’s more of a handshake that falls into a hug. It’s a natural thing for me but it’s always been hard to get my son to hug me in public and, like I said, he’s under my roof almost 24/7. Here, with kids he only met a week ago, he was openly sharing his feelings. These unexpected events continued as we got closer to our time to leave. As we were picking up his things from in front of his cabin, I reminded him to thank his main counselor. He went up to the counselor (the same one that told me that he would be with Cam should any gluten-attack occur) to say his good-bye. Again, to my surprise, Cam reached out and hugged him. The counselor said something to him, which I did not try to interpret or listen to because it wasn’t a conversation for me to hear. After this brief interaction, I could see the tears in the counselor’s eyes and though he tried to keep them diverted from me, Cam’s eyes had tears in them as well. Again, I was stunned.
As we pulled out the camp driveway and started on our journey down the road, Cam told us about his week. All of his stories involved the boys in his cabin. It sounded as if every activity that he did had at least one of the other members of Cabin 13 there with him. I casually slipped in a question about his emotional goodbye to his friends and counselor and he opened up even more. He said that on both Thursday and Friday nights, during their nightly Devotion, they did activities where everyone in the cabin was overwhelmed with emotion. During those evening meetings, it was shared by some of the boys who had been to camp before, that this was the best cabin group that they had ever had. The realization that their time together was rapidly approaching an end was too much for all of them and Cam said that all ten of them were in tears. He had found that group of guys and created a bond that we had hoped he would find during his time away. We didn’t realize how strong that bond would be and how hard it would be for him to leave it behind. It wasn’t long after this story that Cam went to sleep, his exhausted body finally winning the battle.
As I watched my son in the rear view mirror catch up on his sleep, I tried to put myself into his shoes. During his school years, he has always been on the fringe of various friend circles. He gets along with the “popular” kids but he’s not on the ‘A’ list for hanging-out or parties. He got along with the members of his baseball team but they were not people that he hung out with outside of game activities. He’s “known” but his quiet demeanor has left him as an “unknown”. This week, all of the conceptions and barriers that have been made by his peer groups at home, were no longer there. This week, his gluten-free lifestyle was celebrated and not seen as different. This week, he was part of the core group; not a fringe acquaintance. And now, this week was done. Later that night, I could tell that lack of sleep and his emotions were still weighing on him. As we talked, he told me that he wanted to go back. I asked if he meant now or next year. He replied, “Both”. My heart hurt for him.
These days the world is a small place, but not small enough sometimes. Most of these boys live more than eight hours from us, not just a bike ride away. They all have already communicated through social media, sharing camp cheers via Instagram just 12 hours after leaving each other, but sadly I know that this will probably fade away as school starts and they each get back to their day to day routines. But who knows? Maybe the pact and bond that they shared at camp will overcome the odds. For Cam’s sake, I hope I’ll be surprised again.