Happy at Home
I have decided my 14-year-old son should go to sleep-away summer camp.
It’s a little late for me to have decided this.
Especially since he is completely appalled at the prospect.
Which is why I’ve decided it would be “good” for him.
Forget that it’s the end of July. Forget that the kids who go to sleep-away camp have been going since they were 10 or younger. I actually have found a camp for teens that has a one week option that sounds idyllic. To me. Hiking, Swimming, Yoga, Creative Writing. I want to go.
How could he not want to go? Why doesn’t he want to go? How much should I worry that he doesn’t want to go? Should I force him to go? Would it be like the time I forced him to go to yoga? Which turned out to have been not very yogic. Recalcitrant-son-determined-to-be-miserable prodded by frustrated-type A-mother. You Will Go To Yoga Dammit.
He seems to be happy. He plays tennis three mornings a week. I enrolled him in swimming lessons, much to his annoyance. A crucial life-survival skill, I told him. Non-negotiable. When the teacher said he was doing so well he should join the swimming team, my son told me he was kind of enjoying it after all and might want to continue. Aha! See? I should push him more!
The rest of the time, he pads around the house watching television, checking on his basil and tomato plants, playing with our beloved parakeets, lying on his bed daydreaming. He’ll practice his guitar and do his summer reading with some nagging. He’ll even do some chores around the house – though it takes some pleading followed by a stern threat that tv-watching privileges will be revoked. Occasionally a neighborhood friend of his will stop by, grateful for the tranquility of our house compared to the rambunctiousness of his house filled with siblings. But mostly my son is alone. Or leading a parallel life with big sister in another room. Seemingly happy.
For me, his quiet aloneness raises the specter of my lonely only child summers. Where watching television meant watching whatever was on one of the main channels at the time: All My Children, Let’s Make A Deal, or Star Trek. I renounced television as a pitiful waste of time. Why watch game shows when I could be Achieving Something Great? I am still quite disdainful of tv-watching, which means I am regularly condescending to my family because they are quite content planted in front of the television. While they are, god-forbid, relaxing, I busy myself with whatever it is I busy myself with. Busy Busy Busy. Achieving Something Great. I think they are the wiser ones. Besides, the offerings on television are now so incredibly varied and sophisticated that getting lost-in-tv is way more entertaining and culturally acceptable than 40 years ago. Indeed, I am beginning to appreciate getting lost-in-tv and am convinced I am going to wish I had figured this out about 20 years ago instead of now. I am not sure that my son’s multiple viewings of every episode of The Big Bang Theory count though. Or my daughter’s obsession with The Royal Baby. Or my husband’s inexplicable fascination with Pirates of the Carribbean, over and over again.
I am coming to the realization that I am quite possibly the most extroverted, sociable, and exploratory person in my family. Well, perhaps it is more accurate to claim I am the most neurotically driven one. To say I am an extrovert is saying a lot, because it is with intentional effort that I have overcome shyness to meet new people and try new things. I have tested, firmly and on multiple occasions, as an INFP on the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory test. The “I” stands for Introversion and means I am someone who is happy alone and prefers to think through things myself without a lot of input on others. Check. The “N” stands for Intuitive and means I am someone who is creative and can spend a great deal of time imagining and dreaming in my mind. Check. The F stands for Feeling and means that I am eager to please and very influenced by the desire to connect with others. Check. The J stands for Judging and means I am someone who is measured, planful, disciplined. Oh yeah, that’s me. Check.
In retrospect, however, I enjoy meeting people and trying new things and have regularly challenged myself to do so all of my life. At least as soon as I could break free from my over-protective and risk-averse parents. It was a badge of honor to push myself to do something new. In ninth grade, I auditioned for the school musical, alone. A non-singer, I croaked “Happy Birthday” to Mr. Duncan, the most open and supportive teacher EVER. I never did get a singing role in high school, but I danced and acted and worked backstage. Being involved with theater is one of the happiest and most fun things I’ve done in my life. And all because I felt in my gut that I had to audition on that fateful September afternoon in 9th grade.
As my son pauses this summer before entering 9th grade, I panic. Will he be okay? Have I done enough for him? Shouldn’t he have more friends? Shouldn’t he be doing more? Shouldn’t he be busy busy busy? Do the kids who go to sleep-away have a leg up on him? Should I force him to do more? Should I let him be? Where is the balance? The balance between pushing him and letting him be. What will be the feeling in his gut that compels him to take a risk?
When we had a family meeting to discuss how much structure to enforce on our kids’ summer schedule for the rest of the summer, my son reiterated that he did not want to go to sleep-away camp and was terrified I would come home one day and gleefully announce that I had enrolled him. Yep, that is something I would do. My husband asked him to articulate why he didn’t want to go.
“Why would I want to leave my comfort zone?” he replied, stating what was obvious to him.
Why indeed. He has a beautiful life. Loved and safe. I spent my life fighting against getting too comfortable because I wanted to Achieve Something Great. I spent my life avoiding my childhood home because it was an unhappy hide-out for me, not a happy cocoon. We have created a happy life for our children. A happy life they are not rebelling very hard against. At least not yet. Perhaps that is a Great Achievement I should be proud of.
The desire for him to go to camp is my need, not his, based on my fear that he needs to escape the confines of shyness that I struggled against. I will honor who he is. Nurture. Push gently. Balance opportunities for exploration with time in his comfort zone. And I will be happy that he is happy at home in his comfort zone.