My son decided not to spend the night at his friend's house last night. He was a little sad to miss sleeping out in the tent, and waking up for a breakfast that almost certainly involved bacon. At the same time, however, he was also filled with great sense of relief. At eight years old, he's just not comfortable with the idea of waking up in a place that isn't his.
I get that. I was that kid too. I still feel some of that anxiety when the sun goes down and I'm not in my own house. Comfort, safety, control. I can find my way to the bathroom in the dark. I know what is in the refrigerator and the cookie jar. I know the sounds the dog makes, and the ones my family makes.
When I was eight, I used to watch from my friend's house down the street for my father's car to turn the corner - heading home. We had plans for me to spend the night. We would stay up late and watch Creature Features and trade Wacky Packages and sleep in the foldout bed downstairs. Then I realized my family was gathering and I wouldn't be there. I could usually hold it together until it got dark, and then the real scary demons would begin to dance and play in my mind. To this day, I cannot say what my biggest fear or concern was. I can still sense it: a crushing and consuming panic that could not be turned off.
It didn't help that the older I got, the more ridicule I received for being homesick. I didn't go to summer camp. I didn't spend weekends on my cousin's farm. I stayed at home. Not that I didn't try - I made many well-intentioned efforts to shake that fear. It was that same fear that kept me from leaving home to go to the College of Santa Fe as a freshman. In retrospect, I'm happy for the direction my life has taken me since then, but I have dozens of "what-ifs" to reflect upon.
I have a standing agreement with my son that I will come and pick him up from any overnight. We're still waiting for the one that feels right. He's told me that he wants to go to Cal Berkeley so he can come home at night. I'm not sure I'm ready to talk him out of if just yet.