I had just spent the morning loading my 10-year-old son onto a bus. He was about to take a five-hour ride to his home-away-from-home for the next two weeks: Camp Pathfinder in Algonquin Park, Ont.
You would think that this would have been an easy process for my husband and me. After all, Joey is the youngest of our three sons, the oldest two having already graduated from college. But for many reasons it was more difficult than I had expected.
We have been contemplating sending Joey to summer camp for a few years. Our older sons, Matt and Nick, went away to summer camp every year and have many wonderful memories. But they always had each other. Joey is virtually an only child now that his brothers are out in the working world; we felt that interacting in a daily living environment with boys his own age would be a welcome and enjoyable experience.
We began by recruiting a couple of his buddies we thought might be willing to join Joey. Once their parents agreed, we arranged for a meeting with the camp director.
Mike Sladden, better known as Sladds around camp, gave a wonderful presentation showcasing the camp's natural beauty: boys canoeing, climbing rock walls and jumping into the lake off a large platform or dock, and the boys were sold. Whatever apprehension we parents held was quickly forgotten at the sight of their excitement.
Later, I occasionally had moments of anxiety, wondering if we had made the right decision. I tried telling myself about the benefits of having two weeks to myself. I could get those long-neglected closets organized, enjoy a leisurely lunch or coffee with friends, and I would have full and complete control of the car radio stations.
Still, I was sure that it would not be easy putting him on that bus.
The following weeks were a flurry of activity, jam-packed with final exams, events and parties, and in Joey's case, baseball season. However, we did our best to gather items from the list of supplies needed for life in the wilderness (half of which I knew would never be used).At the last minute I tucked a family photo into the bottom of his luggage.
The day had arrived. We woke early -- well, Joey and Dad did; I don't think I ever actually fell asleep. We loaded into the car and drove to the pick-up site. With Dad in a separate car, Joey and I had some quality time together and one of the most delightful conversations I can remember having with him: half filled with nerves and the other half excitement. I'll never forget the funny look on his face and the nervous laughter as he tried to describe just how he was feeling. He promised me there would be no dramatic scene at the bus, and I promised the same.
When we arrived, friends Paul, Zach and Evan were all ready and waiting. Counselors and parents were busy trying to load the buses, collect passports and take names of the campers.
I remember kissing and hugging Joey many times as we chatted with the other parents. We all had our cameras to record this momentous occasion.
Departure time was drawing near. I turned to give Joey one last kiss goodbye and he was gone. He and his friends had already boarded the bus and were happily plugged into their iPods. I wasn't sure if this was a camp tactic to make the transition a little easier for everyone or if they viewed me as someone who might possibly disturb this tranquil scene with sobs of regret. In any case, it did work. I was committed to my promise to Joey that no dramatic scene would be witnessed.
For a brief moment, I did think about running onto the bus for one last hug, then came to my senses. This was it. They were on their way. A few tears were shed as the buses rolled out of the parking lot, but we all knew that they were embarking on an extraordinary adventure.
I returned to my car. The radio was on Joey's favorite station, playing a hip-hop song that I had heard under duress too many times. Strangely enough, I couldn't bring myself to change the station.