Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hello, Muddah...

This summer, my 12-year-old went to Skateboard Camp for a week, an institution that should have its own Parent Support Group.  There’s a 100-page waiver you need to sign before they’ll accept your child and every time you call the camp, the person answering your questions sounds like she’s 15. 

“The counselors are all 16-year-old skaters that drink Red Bull all day,” my friend told me after I sent in my deposit.  Her son went there last year.  “He said it was the best week of his life.”

I thought she was exaggerating, but when I told a neighbor where my son was going, she said, “Oh, is that the place that serves Coco-Puffs and Red Bull for breakfast?”

My 12-year-old had never been to sleep-away camp, indeed he rarely leaves the house altogether.  Like me, I think he does a quick cost/benefit analysis of the types of compromises necessary once you step out your front door and opts for the only sane choice: stay home.  So when he told me he wanted to go to this camp – begged me, actually – I felt almost morally obligated to say yes.  This could break the agoraphobia chain, I thought, ever hopeful that my offspring do not end up like me.

It’s not as if I keep my family on lockdown, but I do feel more at ease when everyone is in the house.  The 12-year-old, usually happy to oblige, was really throwing me with this newfound adventurism of his.  In the weeks leading up to his departure, I managed my anxiety in my usual way – denial.  I simply pretended he wasn’t going anywhere.  Then, the night before he left, I quickly wrote his name on all his clothes, jammed them into a bag and fanatically began to hope for the best. 

The camp was three-and-a-half hours away, and he and his friends arranged to take the chartered camp bus from a nearby shopping mall.  We arrived at the designated spot in the parking lot – Area 8 between Sears and Macy’s – and I stood, slack-jawed, as my 4’11” skater boarded the bus with all manner of riffraff and ne’er-do-wells, many of them hovering near 6’ tall.

As it happened, my best friend’s son was also at his first time sleep-away experience at a different camp that same week.  That boy is younger than my 12-year-old and he went to a Jewish camp that my friend attended when she was a girl.  Aside from receiving incessant online postings of photographs and emails throughout the week, my friend also managed to extract specific information about her son’s experience through several calls to the camp’s main office. 

“He’s having a great time,” she reported to me.  I envied not only her information gathering skills, but also that she was able to sleep easily at night, knowing that her son was being well cared for.

I was a part of no such info-loop.  I called the camp to check on him.  "I'm sure he's doing fine," said the 15-year-old. 

"I didn't even tell you his name," I said.

"If he'd gotten hurt, you would have been contacted."  Click.

I had let my son take his cell phone to camp with the promise that he’d text me each night and let me know he was ok.  “If you could let me know whether you like it there, too, I'd be grateful,” I’d said, knowing he was a man of few words when it comes to texting.

I received one text from him on his second night at camp (“I’m still alive”).  Then, another, days later (“Not dead”), but only after I’d called the camp office again and beseeched them to have my son contact me.

After seven days had elapsed, I returned to the Area 8 drop off spot at the mall.  The first kid off the bus had his casted arm in a blue sling.  I was prepared for the rest of the passengers to look like the walking wounded, but they didn’t…they just looked scrappy and tired.

I never did learn much about my son’s first week away from home (I guess, what happens at skateboard camp stays at skateboard camp), but what I did learn was this:
•    Save for a few eating breaks, all they did was skate from 9 in the morning until 10 at night.
•    There was only one counselor for a bunk of 15 boys.  He was 18 years old and the boys considered him “an adult.”
•    The highly touted air-conditioning in the cabins barely worked.
•    The highly touted swimming pool was “gross.”
•    No one showered.
•    My son wore a single pair of socks all week long.
•    The toilet in the cabin didn’t work, yet that didn’t stop most of the boys from taking a dump in it anyway.

And, yes…it was the best week he’d ever had.

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