Fifteen years ago, I wrote a column for the Abilene Reporter-News – a newspaper for which I still worked remotely as online content editor even though my family and I had moved from Abilene, TX to Little Rock, AR. (My blogging buddy Deana Nall used to write a wonderful, somewhat-similar column for her hometown newspaper, The Baytown Sun.) I thought I’d re-post a few of my entries, as she has occasionally done with some of hers. My column was called “Parenting on Purpose.” This was the first installment.
(originally published August 16, 2002)
A few weeks back, nine-year-old Matthew went to camp. It was one of life’s milestones for him, and for us — his parents — too. For the first time ever, he was miles away from Mom and Dad and little sister for an entire week where phone calls to us are possible only in the gravest emergency; surrounded by a hundred or more diverse mentalities in a range of two years above and below him; supervised by other, slightly-older kids with whom I entrust my son but might not entrust my car.
We dropped him off Saturday afternoon. It was raining as we left. By Sunday morning, Mom was already fretting: “I hope he’s getting along okay.”
The weather forecast was for more rain in the camp’s area. She sent him a letter Monday morning.
By Wednesday afternoon, she was calling me from work. “Do you think we should go up to camp and go to church with him? I talked to some of the other parents and they said there are always a few who live there in town who drop in for assembly Wednesday night.”
Diplomatically, I said, “I’ll be glad to do whatever you decide. What I’m more concerned about is not that he’ll want to come home, but how you’ll react if the first thing he says is ‘Can I stay another week?’.”
We drove to the campground Wednesday night. It rained most of the trip, and when we got there the kids were gathered in the dining hall rather than outside. I dropped off Mom and little sister and parked. When I walked up, as far as I could tell, we were the only parents there.
Matthew was already telling Mom how he rode a horse that ran off with him and that his cabin had flooded and all his towels for the pool got soaked and the counselors found some more for him and how he and his cabin-mates were crowded into another cabin and could he show us now?
We asked his counselor if we could go see the new cabin, and he said sure. It felt funny, asking a high-schooler’s permission. We ducked between the raindrops. Matthew showed us the soaked, smelly old cabin and the clean, dry new cabin. He pointed and named each kid’s bunk. We took his soppy towels so they wouldn’t mildew.
It was time to go. The moment of truth had arrived. He opened his mouth, and I held my breath. “Goodbye, Mom. Goodbye, Dad. See you Saturday.”
The other shoe failed to drop. I can’t say the same for my jaw.
On the trip home, Mom turned to me. “The first thing he said was, ‘What are you doing here?’ The second thing he said was, ‘Can I stay another week?’.” I grinned.
She added, “I feel better now. You think I’m silly.”
“I don’t think it’s ever silly for you to be a Mom,” I said.
I should have told her that I felt better, too.
Keith Brenton is the father of Matthew, 9, and Laura, 6. He and his wife, Angi, are adoptive parents. As content/media editor, he helps maintain Reporter-News Online and works at home. You can reach him by e-mail at [no longer active], but he admits he doesn’t have all the answers.