Thursday, August 6, 2015

Letters From Camp

Shortly after I blogged about taking my youngest to sleep away camp for the first time, I went out to check the mailbox. Ben had been gone three days. One of the things I'd packed for him were stamped, addressed envelopes that he could use to write home. I'd given him three, one for each week that he'd be away.

Yesterday, all three arrived.

I'm guessing he wrote the first one minutes after we left him on Sunday afternoon, just in case we hadn't fully understood what his tears and desperate tone really meant. Knowing how his week had gone before camp, I assumed he woke at 5 am on Monday and likely wrote the second one when he couldn't go back to sleep. And allowing two days for mail to go from MA to NY, I figure he wrote the third one after breakfast on Monday and put them all into the mail slot.

The first one made me sad, but I understood where it was coming from. The second one had me worried because Ben NEVER skips a meal unless he's physically ill. Thankfully, the third one had me laughing out loud and put my mind at ease. He would be fine.

Dear Mom,

I know this is early, but I don't like it here. I want to come home!! Please. I'm begging you. I may sound desperate, but that's because I am. Please. I love you. 

Ben :(
Dear Mom,

Listen, I hate (yes, HATE) it here. I didn't eat last night, I was really scared and I want to come home. I was crying the entire day. Please. 1 day is enough. I need you. I love you. 

Ben :( :(
Dear Mom, (sorry, Dad)

Day 2. It's gotten better, but I really don't like it here. If you do make me stay (dear god, please, no) I need more envelopes. I love you. Stay in touch. 

LOVE Ben xoxo
And I admit to doing a proud, nerdy mom dance when I realized that all of his grammar and punctuation were correct, because come on. If he was that careful, how upset could he really be? 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


I am not a mush, one of those overly sentimental people who feel everything deeply and weep easily at any situation that's joyous or sad. Yes, I cry at weddings, but the bad stuff rarely gets to me.

This past weekend, we dropped my youngest off at sleep away camp for the first time in his life. Before now, the longest he'd been away from us was one night, for a sleepover at his best friend's house next door. We knew this would be a good experience for him. He's twelve, and would greatly benefit from a taste of independence in a fun, safe environment. We've been talking to him about it for months, showing him pictures of the camp, explaining what they do there, what the schedule is like, what the activities will be and more. His friend from next door went last year for the first time and, after an adjustment period of a few days, loved it. He couldn't wait to go back this year and was thrilled Ben was coming along.

Ben knew they'd be in different bunks, as they are in different grades at school. He knew it was a couple of hours' drive from home, and that it would be a three-week stint instead of two. Because of his age, the two-week stay for first-timers was not an option. He was fine with that. He was excited.

The week before we were to leave for camp, Ben started having anxiety. He became clingy, texting me during the day from day camp to tell me he loved me, he missed me, he wanted to come home. Even though I would pick him up at five o'clock each day, it wasn't enough. He didn't want to go to day camp anymore. He didn't want to go to sleep away. He didn't want to leave my side.

We talked about it, about the unknown aspect and his fears, and did our best to alleviate them. He began having stomach pains at night and trouble falling asleep. He started having nightmares. So we had him talk to his friend next door, a pep-talk of sorts, and he got excited again.

It took longer to get to camp than it should have (Mom read the directions wrong). We toured the campus and saw Ben's friend and had lunch and helped him unpack his things. But when it came time to say goodbye, there were still tears. I'd expected this, and we'd spoken to the nurses, the counselors in his bunk and the director about it. When Ben begged us not to leave him, to take him home where he felt "safe", it took all my strength to hug him and tell him he'd have a great time, and then walk away.

I knew there would be an adjustment period for Ben. What I didn't anticipate was how much *I* would struggle. In the days since dropping him off, I tear up at everything. Croissants are on sale at the supermarket; Ben and I love to get those as special treats for ourselves. *sniff* My husband made roast chicken for dinner, Ben's favorite. *sniff* The song on the radio in the car was made into a Minecraft song, and I'd heard that version first, before the mainstream version, thanks to Ben. *sniff, sniff* And thanks to a week of conditioning before he left, I've been waking up each night at 4:30 am, inexplicably. Unable to fall back to sleep, I lie awake and think of Ben, wondering if he's also awake and missing us, if he's still sad, or angry at me for making him stay, miserable and despondent even while plotting a way to get home. And I cry.

The night after he left, I made dinner, one of Ben's least favorite dishes. As I chopped vegetables and began combining ingredients for sauce, I thought of him and my eyes began to well. I added some soy sauce into a bowl, and the ingredients separated into a smiley face (photo above). My first instinct was to show it to Ben. My next was to take a picture of it, for surely, this was a sign.

My neighbor told me that if the camp hasn't called, it means Ben's doing fine. His brother wrote him a letter. I shipped him a package yesterday, full of things I think he'll enjoy, and he'll receive it tomorrow. I've been keeping busy working, cleaning, scheduling events, and it's helped. I'm not tearing up at every turn, and I've even stopped thinking about him every ten minutes. I also haven't needed to call the camp to see how he's doing, which means I'm going to be fine.

I knew Ben would learn a lot about himself, about what he's capable of, by leaving us for a while. What I didn't know was that I would do the same. So I'm really looking forward to swapping stories with him about it when he gets home.

In 16 days and 21 hours.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

It's Not Me: It's You

My twelve-year-old and fourteen-year-old are no longer on speaking terms with each other. That is, my son and my dog.

Within the last few weeks, it seems something has shifted in our dog's brain; he now views Ben as a threat. It started when I came home with both boys from camp one afternoon. Bailey was in the den downstairs, and I unlocked the door and held it open for the boys to enter. Ben went first, said hello to Bailey, and reached out his hand to pet him. Bailey growled, then snapped, missed and snapped again, catching Ben's finger and drawing blood. I hustled the boys outside and around to the back door and left Bailey downstairs.

Maybe we startled him? Maybe we woke him up? Maybe it was too dark and he didn't actually hear us come in (his hearing is failing), saw a hand in his face and reacted? We tried to apply human logic to a dog--a dog we've owned for over seven years--to grasp what had changed. How else to calm our son who feels that suddenly, inexplicably, our dog no longer loves him?

For the next couple of weeks, the two tenuously circled each other like barely tolerant roommates. Bailey seemed fine when Alpha Dog Dad was around, and that put the rest of us at ease. Over the weekend, with his older brother away at camp, Ben gently fed snacks to Bailey from his hand with no ill effects or ill will on either side. Things seemed to have returned to normal.

But today, Ben and I went out for a little over an hour. When we returned, I opened the door into the den and entered first, holding the door open for Ben, who hung back. Bailey was there, lying on the rug with his eyes open. I said hello to him and stood waiting for him to stand up. He didn't react right away, so I addressed him again. That's when he popped his head up and began to growl, then bark, at Ben.

Ben was still standing outside the screen door, so I shut it. Bailey approached the screen and was barking and growling fiercely now, so I told Ben to take off his sweatshirt hood. He did, but it didn't help. To Bailey, he was a giant, thug-like being wielding a bat.

I sent Ben to the back door and left Bailey downstairs.

Alpha Dog Dad and I have been discussing this a lot recently. We've done research, spoken with the vet at Bailey's thorough wellness check up last week, and tried to calm both Ben and Bailey. But now we're unsure. We've read about canine cognitive dysfunction, the signs and symptoms and why they occur. But what the experts don't tell us is how to coexist with a family member who now makes another family member feel threatened. I can only imagine what it must be like for people whose loved ones are suffering from Alzheimer's. Cognitive dysfunction unties the things that fasten us to each other. It steals not just memory, but relationships, history, leaving everyone involved unmoored.

For now, we'll keep the two separated. As much as it saddens me, I don't want to force a closeness that would make either (or both) of them uneasy. Until we know more, all we can do is try to prevent any additional painful episodes.