Separation anxiety

We tell ourselves it is necessary to send our children away on their own to prepare them for adulthood. I am beginning to believe we must send our children away on their own to prepare us for their adulthood.

Carla and Barron, in his scout uniform
It’s hard to tell who is more unsure about going to camp, Carla or Barron.

Last Sunday morning we dropped our 11-year-old son off at the Publix parking lot where he and about 40 of his fellow scouts boarded a charter bus bound for a week at Camp Rainey Mountain near Clayton, Ga. Only a month ago we dropped him off for a three-night mini-camp for new scouts at Fort Yargo State Park, so this experience was supposed to be only marginally more difficult.

For some reason, it’s not.

Since we left him he has not been far from my thoughts. Even though I have complete confidence in the adult chaperones and camp staff, I find myself wondering how he is faring emotionally with being away from home on his own for an extended period of time.

Oh, you should hear the speeches I make to Carla, lecturing her on the need for Barron to have these formational experiences of independence within safe boundaries. I have boldly proclaimed the benefits to his self-confidence and maturity. I make definitive statements about his safety and enjoyment of the merit badge classes.

In reality, I’m trying to convince myself.

In their wisdom, the troop leaders sent an e-mail to parents on Wednesday reassuring us that all is well. They even included a wish list from each scout. When I saw that Barron’s wish was for a “1989 Michael Keaton Batman Batmobile,” I knew he was just fine.

I’m beginning to understand that the biggest problem with sending your children away is the disconnection. He’s spent a week with grandparents before, and I’ve taken him along with the other church kids to Passport Kids camp the past two years. What makes this different is that we can’t talk to him. We haven’t heard from him. We can’t know how he is really doing.

As they say at the church, I’m “reaping what I’ve sown” for all the times in college I went weeks without calling home. And think, this is just the beginning!

Noah and Barron load the bus for camp
Best bud, Noah, left, and Barron, right, load their footlockers onto the charter bus bound for a week at Camp Rainey Mountain in Northeast Georgia. Photo courtesy of Chip Johns.

I am certain that he is loving his canoeing and woodcarving classes. I’m sure first aid is interesting. He will greatly benefit from the survival swimming as he learns the Bear Grylls-esque skill of turning his clothes into a flotation device and treading water until rescued. Cognitively, I get it. Emotionally, I need some assurances he’s OK.

As parents it’s hard to conceive, give birth, care for every need, teach, nurture, guide and prepare our children then suddenly at age 18 send them out into the wild. It’s natural and unnatural all at the same time.

This week I’ve realized that Barron needed to go to camp to teach us how to be his parents when he’s out of the nest as much as he needed to go to learn new skills and how to be on his own.

When we show up at the church to pick him up tomorrow, I’m sure we will hear the details of a great week. There will be low moments he’ll tell us about, but if minicamp is any indication, he’ll be singing “Bo Diddly Bop” and chanting “You Can’t Ride in My Little Red Wagon” while breathlessly re-telling us the jokes he heard around the camp fires and every adventure he and his best friend, Noah, experienced.

And I’ll savor the moment, knowing that 18 follows quickly after 11, and the time we have him to ourselves under our roof is limited.

Maybe next year will be easier – for me and for him.

What was it like for you when you were a kid and went away on your own for the first time? Have you sent your child away? What was it like for you the first time? Do you have an empty nest? How do you cope with parenting from a distance? How do you maintain contact with your college-aged kids? Leave a comment below and share your parenting journey with us.   

The Power of Pine

For the last five years, I’ve spent one Saturday in January at a unique sporting event that induces anxiety, quickens the pulse and triggers a few tears.

Of course I’m talking about the annual Cub Scout Pinewood Derby.

Harris and Barron working on their Pinewood Derby cars
Harris and Barron hard at work turning their blocks of wood into works of art... fast art.

This anachronistic competition is a throw-back to the days when kids made their own toys out of what they found lying around. In an era when everything is plastic and comes with detailed picture instructions, the Pinewood Derby challenges kids to use their imagination and show dexterity with sharp implements.

It’s a simple concept: You get a block of wood. That’s it. Oh, and four small nails and four plastic wheels. It’s an intimidatingly blank canvas.

Pinewood Derby makes me anxious because I am not a woodworker. I do not possess woodworking tools. I do not possess woodworking skills. We have relied on the help of our friends, Jeff and Christine, who have been gracious with their time, expertise and equipment. They help us get the body of the cars into their basic shapes, so the boys can go to town on them with files, sandpaper and paint to achieve their artistic vision.

Barron's 1966 Batmobile and best bud Noah's Mach 5 of Speedracer fame.
Barron's 1966 Batmobile and best bud Noah's Mach 5 of Speedracer fame.

Each year, my oldest son, Barron, has come up with designs that flow right out of his interests. The first year it was a Jeff Gordon replica car straight from his NASCAR obsession. A week after a visit to Sea World in Orlando, he came up with a Shamu car, complete with dorsal fin. After “riding the Ducks” at Stone Mountain he conceived of the amphibious “Duck” vehicle. Beginning guitar lessons last year produced an instrument on wheels. This year he reproduced the 1966 Batmobile, which ran pretty well and received lots of attention from the dads, if not their sons, who remembered watching the old Batman series as kids.

This year was Harris’ first foray into the world of Pinewood Derby. Like all second-born children, he benefitted from his brother’s experience. I still have nightmares about Barron’s first year. I felt like a terrible parent as I watched Barron stand, dejected, at the foot of the race track while Jeff Gordon didn’t have enough weight to roll down to the finish line. I hadn’t done the research from among the myriad websites to help him be at least moderately successful.

Harris posing for a photo for his second place design.
Despite the forced smile, Harris really was thrilled to earn second place for "showmanship" among the Tiger cubs for his hot rod school bus.

This time around, we were ready. Harris’s hot rod school bus did well, earning a second place in showmanship among all the Tiger cubs and first place in speed for our den. His flaming bus may not be sanctioned by the Gwinnett County School Board, but it will get you to school on time.

All told we probably spent 20-30 hours on this year’s cars, including helping Carlton with his car. Carlton’s idea of working on his car was putting five coats of paint on the pine block, each a different color.

Overall it was a great morning at the races. Our nerves gave way to laughs as we spent time with friends. The boys displayed good sportsmanship, pulling for their buddies and not throwing tantrums when their cars weren’t the fastest.

After five years I’ve finally figured out the magic of the Pinewood Derby – time. It’s all about the time Barron, Harris, Carlton and I spent together hacking at, sanding, painting and sealing a block of wood.

Like the race itself, life passes all too quickly. What matters most isn’t finishing first. It’s building what it takes to get you to the finish line.