It was difficult to contain my excitement.
Last summer we’d sent all three kids to overnight camp. 3.5 weeks. No kids. WOW. We had arrived!
We filled our “new life” with movies, dinners out, walks, a quiet house. It was rejuvenating. Sure, we were glad to get the kids back, but upon their return, we started the countdown to our next staycation. 340 days. We were set.
Until we weren’t.
“I don’t think I’m going to camp this summer,” the oldest announced nonchalantly one evening in April.
“What do you mean? They already offered you the counselor job. Why wouldn’t you take it?” I asked, trying my best not to sound disappointed.
“I have soccer and have to be back early August; plus I want to earn some real money.”
“Are you sure that’s a good plan?” It certainly wasn’t for me.
Plus, what was all this talk about real money? When did that become important?
“Yeah, I feel good about this choice.” Good to know that one of us did.
Summer arrived. Two left for camp; one remained. Back for the summer. Friends asked about our plans.
“Well, two are gone, and I guess we’ll do our best to ignore the third—he doesn’t really want to be around us anyway,” I answered honestly.
Monday arrived, and I checked times at the local theater. Ah, 7:20 p.m. movie. Perfect! I called Todd and made the plan. We’d meet at the theater and grab a quick dinner après le film. Zach? He had plans with a friend, so we were set.
Until we weren’t.
“So, what are you and Dad doing tonight?” he asked as he collected his wallet and keys.
“Going to see Chef and then grabbing a bite after.”
Silence. He placed his keys back on the table.
“Would it be okay if I came too?” I thought he was kidding. I turned around and smiled. He wasn’t smiling.
“What?” he asked when he saw the look on my face. He continued. “Would that be okay?”
“Suuure—I just thought you had plans.”
“I do—but I’d rather go with you and Dad.” I’d never cried at a camp drop off, but I now found myself blinking back the tears.
So we went to the theater—the three of us—with Zach seated between us like when he was little. Except this time, I was looking backward instead of forward. I wasn’t wondering who he would turn out to be; I was thinking about who he was. I remembered when he was the only kid, surrounded by both of us for, well, nearly everything. That hadn’t happened for a while—14.5 years to be exact. How quickly the oldest became the one who needed us the least.
Until he didn’t.
“Want to hold hands?” I asked Todd, as I reached across Zach to grab Todd’s hand. Zach rolled his eyes.
“Really, Mom?” but he was laughing. Not the toddler giggle, but the grownup, almost a man, almost–my-contemporary, laugh.
“Oh sorry—do you want me to hold your hand?” I asked, as I reached for his. That got the full-on dimpled smile.
It wasn’t exactly the way I’d pictured our short-term freedom.
Until it was.