Love Letter

A Letter to my son

A Letter to my son

Dear Levi,
I am afraid. That’s not something you want to hear from your mother I know. That’s why this letter wont find its way to you until you’re much, much older. But I am.

In a few weeks you’ll be going to overnight camp for the first time. You’ll be more than a phone call away. You’ll be out of my voice’s reach. You’ll be on your own for the first time ever. Yikes.

It’s not that I don’t think you’re ready or capable or strong enough. I clearly do. I wouldn’t be sending you if I had real, factual reasons to doubt your competence. The truth is, the issues, which are all looming heavily, are my own issues. Issues from my past, historical fears, ancient anxieties. Being a mom can be really complicated sometimes. Kind of messy when it comes to emotions and baggage and holding on to old hurts and wounds.

You see, I too went to sleep-away camp when I was 9 years old. But unlike you, my parents didn’t really evaluate my readiness the way we’ve tried to do. Back in my day, overnight camp was just what you did. My mom needed a break from mothering, and so even though I’d never managed a single successful sleepover away from home, my parents sent me to a beautiful Northern Wisconsin oasis for two entire months.

I wasn’t ready. I was desperately homesick, painfully alone, and utterly terrified. As I look back upon my life, I know for certain that that 9 year old 8-week respite for my folks, cost me a significant amount of pain and defined the difficulties I would have in being on my own for most of my adult life.

I’m not blaming them. They did what most everyone in their socio-economic strata did with their kids for the summers. But it scarred me. As time went on, I developed an overpowering need to prove my readiness to leave home. That need, however, was consistently met with a dark, looming depression, anxiety and yearning for home that would sabotage all attempts to fly from the nest for the next 20 or so years.

As I aged, I became compelled to leave home; to prove to myself that I could be on my own, survive without my parents, overcome the pain and anguish of leaving my family. I went to Europe with a group of kids when I was 16. I remember writing letters to my folks about my loneliness and despair. I went to Italy as an exchange student during my Junior year of high school. I was miserable and ended up running away from my host family and hitchhiking around the country for the remainder of the summer until I could afford to pay my way home. I sought out semester programs in England, Ireland and again in Italy during college. My whole life was about finding a place for myself, far away from my home and family. And yet, every time I left, I felt those same 9 year old fears.

As an adult, I moved to California from Chicago and then to Phoenix to start my own family. It’s interesting to me as I look back upon my history and trace the path of my travails. I’ve been trying to prove for 30 years that I could successfully go away from home.

And so now, I’m sending you, Levi, to overnight camp for the first time. I hope that one day you will appreciate the deep dichotomy I’m experiencing around this issue. On one hand, you are so ready to go. You love sleepovers at other peoples houses. You’ve never called me once in the middle of the night to come pick you up. You are independent, strong and mindful. You will love making decisions for yourself and listening to counselors half my age who will gently guide you and be there as you need them.

You are only going for 12 days. I think that’s manageable. If you are unhappy, you will be home before you know it. 12 days is a far cry from 8 weeks. You will be there with our best friends who are like family to us. If you need anyone, they will be there to hold you, love you, console you, cheer you on, applaud you, etc… You will have a dear friend in your cabin. You will not be going this journey alone.

I have tried to stack the deck in your favor for your first big venture outside of my reach. I know, rationally, that you will be safe, cared for, and happy. You may have moments of missing us. We will surely have moments of missing you. But I believe deeply in my soul that this is something you need to do and something you are approaching with eagerness, excitement and just the right level of anxiousness.

So Levi, know this; I love you more than anything in the universe. I stand behind you. I believe in you. And I will send you off to sleep-away camp with a most convincing smile plastered across my frightened face, because that’s what mothers do. They smile when their hearts are breaking because they need to let go of their babies, and they need to let go of their own, overstuffed, tattered suitcases full of memories, hurts and lots and lots of baggage.

Airport Security

A funny thing happened to me on the way back to Phoenix last week. Sounds like a Jackie Mason routine. But here’s what happened: I’m at Ohare airport with my kids, trying to manage a bag of overflowing McDonald’s fries, two carry-ons, a bottle of water that had just opened in my purse, and my laptop computer which I’m desperately attempting to keep dry. We manage to find a few seats at the gate and the uniform clad lady at the microphone,(what do they call those people who check you in and give you the bad news about late departures anyway?), is announcing how full the flight is and how if you have more than one carry-on per person they are going to take your bag and check it. She’s urging people to come forward and relinquish their excess baggage before it becomes an embarrassing scene at the end of the ramp.

For once I think, “Wow, this doesn’t pertain to me. I am actually following the rules like a normal person.” Suddenly, this sweet-faced, elderly Asian woman looks at me, her eyes filled with despair. She says in broken English, “You…two bags. Three people. Me…too many…bag. You say…one…yours.” My boys both look at me expectantly. After all, I tell them it’s their responsibility to help people out whenever they can. But I keep hearing the “Has anyone unknown to you asked you to carry anything on board for them?” question ringing in my ears.

“I’m sorry,” I say with the same empathy I might show to a would-be suicide bomber who asked me to take his explosive-laden vest onto the aircraft with me. “I just can’t do that.” My 9-year-old looks up at me with shock. “Mom,” he chastises, “Why don’t you help that lady?” “Well, sweetheart,” I say, loud enough for everyone around us to hear, “It’s against the rules to pretend that someone else’s luggage is your own at an airport. You could get in a lot of trouble for doing that.”

The moment passed rather quickly. The kindly Asian woman checked her bag. My kids got over my lack of compassion. (They’re big into rule following which helped the situation a lot.). But here it is days later and I’m still seeing that woman’s pleading eyes and wondering why I didn’t just help her out. It’s not like I don’t have enough guilt for my maternal and familial failings, but now I feel sick over some stranger who tried to pawn off her extra suitcase on me. This is ridiculous.

The truth is, I should be applauding myself. My behavior was so atypical for me. Usually I just smile and concur, without a flitter of thought as to the possible outcomes of my actions. But this time I was sensible. I didn’t know that woman. I had no way of knowing what she was carrying on board. I was thoughtful, mature, and rational. I didn’t want to endanger my children. I did the right thing. So why do I feel so icky?