Big Kid just returned from a five night sleep away camp.
He's 12 and has not spent many nights away from home. I was really apprehensive about him going, and even offered to chaperone or rent a place nearby, to which he gave a robust "ABSOLUTELY NOT" and then we got into an argument about how I am not literally crazy, which we do a lot.
However, I did really well. I didn't even cry when he left. My mom asked if I found myself wondering what he was doing all day long and I could honestly say that I didn't. I missed him, in a "Wow, the house is empty and a life like this would suck" kind of way but he wasn't even able to call all week and it was fine.
I was glad when it was time to go get him, though, even if it involved a five and a half hour road trip. I arrived 20 minutes early and was heading to the bathroom when I spotted him walking alone, and at that moment, I missed him unlike anything I have ever wanted in my entire 37 years. With all of my heart and soul and every fiber of my being, I longed for him. I turned and followed him and thought about how he would kind of melt into my arms and realize that he missed me like I have missed him when we hugged.
I walked faster to catch up with him and called his name. He turned and said, "Mom?!" and that word has never filled me with warmth and light like it did at that moment. I reached out to fold him into me and he put his hand up in an awkward "hi" (or a crossing guard's "stop") and stepped back, saying it was good to see me. It was the reaction you give an old classmate who caught you unaware at the mall, someone you would have ducked behind a clothing rack to avoid.
You know when people say it was like a door slammed in their face? It was like a brick wall. Except instead of a brick wall, more like the Great Wall of China, and instead of my face, it was every inch of my skin, skeleton, and soul. I felt like I might instantly explode with tears.
It was a visceral devastation, and I'm not just saying that to make him feel guilty when he reads this as an adult some day. (But that's an added benefit.)
I looked closely at him then and saw that he was happy, in a carefree way. That he had done well. And that's the whole point of parenting, so I stopped being literally crazy and waved back, maintaining my excited, uninjured chatter.
And then a tall, impossibly tall, and beautiful blonde girl walked up and introduced herself. She was really tall and bubbling with sharp charisma, really impressive and so tall in every way. I thought I started to understand.
However, when we returned to join the others, I noticed he didn't lean into anyone like the other (really tall) boys did. He wasn't doing the annoying thing where they tap on one shoulder and duck to the other side to get a girl's attention. He didn't seem particularly close to anyone in the group and I started to wonder if it had gone so well.
(It went well. I am literally crazy.)
A brunette girl wearing a hoodie in the high heat went to hug him and he dodged away but laughed, in a way I haven't seen him laugh before. They looked over at me and she asked him something, in an animated way. She then walked over to my table, sat across from me, leaned in and said, "I'm going to spam your son's email to death."
Be still my heart.
"You should. He'd like that."
Her eyes were intense and green. Lovely, hoodie and all.
"Oh, I will. We have it all planned out."
He sat down next to her and eyed me warily.
"Well, I'm glad you two are friends. That's cool," I said, acting like I didn't really care because that's what he wants.
"We are friends. We're both random. That means weird."
"Eh. I think it means authentic. Good for you guys for being who you are. When you grow up, everyone thinks it's cool."
They started telling me a long, boring story because that's what middle schoolers do and they finished each other's sentences. At one point, their faces were kind of close and they were laughing and she said, "Look at us, like an old married couple," and his smile made me swoon.
And she didn't get a hello hug either.
We're okay. All of this is good.
We didn't leave until she did, despite the long drive home, and as we left he jogged off, returning a few minutes later to say that he had good timing and was able to say goodbye just as she was getting into her car.
He also did all kinds of amazing stuff and hung out with artists and documentarians and food foraging farmers and underwater photographers all week, but these simple exchanges were worth the money and the effort and the drive and the mini moment of massive heartache.
He's growing up and he's doing good at it, and that's the whole point. Even if it kills me under the weight of its emotional bricks. That's the job.