“I don’t want to get wet!” my six-year-old son Eli screamed emphatically as we entered camp on the penultimate day of the session.
“Shit,” I thought to myself. “I did it again.” It had been a hellish morning. We were already 20 minutes late, and I’d forgotten it was water day.
“But I’ll get you some extra clothes from the office,” I countered, trying to sound upbeat. “I’m sure lots of kids wont have swim suits. They always have extra clothes.”
“I don’t want to get in the water,” he insisted. “And I’m not wearing someone else’s clothes. Will you just forget it.”
After one more failed attempt to convince him that he could at least play in the water and let himself air dry, I gave up and kissed him goodbye, certain that if I’d been a better mother and remembered his water attire he’d already be happily frolicking in the baby pools outside his classroom. As I got into the car, I tried to talk myself down. “Everyone makes mistakes, Debra. Don’t make this into a bigger issue than it is. He’s probably already forgotten about it.” But much as I tried to let it go, my “you suck as a mother” gene kicked in and I knew I had to do something. I made a bee line to the nearest Old Navy. Hurrah for the end of summer sale. For 32 bucks I got a swim top, trunks, sandals and a beach towel. I was back at camp in a record 10 minutes.
When I arrived, all of Eli’s camp buddies were splashing with abandon. Eli was seated inside with his teacher filling home-made lava lamps. “Hi,” I smiled holding up my bag of swim treasures.
“Hi, mom,” he smiled with a deep sense of joy that told me I had done the right thing. I scooped him up and showed him what I bought. He hugged me gleefully. Then I started pulling off his shoes, socks and t-shirt. But he pulled away. “Mom, please!” he insisted. “I love what you got. I’ll wear it at home today, after camp. But I don’t want to get in the water right now. I already told you that.”
I stared at him cluelessly. “But I thought you were just saying that because I forgot to bring your swim stuff from home.”
He looked back at me with a baffled expression that questioned the logic of such a ridiculously flawed assumption. “Um…no. I just don’t want to get into a baby pool. I’d rather go in a real pool when I get home from camp.” He hugged me and returned to the lava lamp filling station. Then, with a dismissive way he added, “See you later, mom.”
“Um…okay…” I stammered, still holding onto my Old Navy paraphernalia. I’ll just leave it here by your cubby,” I went on, “You know, in case you…change your mind.”
“I wont,” he chirped cheerfully. And with that, I dejectedly slunk from the room.
Sometimes as adults we get so used to people not saying what they mean we don’t recognize the simple truth when it hits us squarely upside the head. Maybe listening better and taking my kids at face value is the lesson I should take from this experience. Maybe I just need to stop reading into everything my kids say and do. Maybe if I stopped projecting my own insecurities onto my children we’d all be a whole lot better off.
Maybe sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar.