The weekend's almost here, and that means another opportunity to rend and torture our son's self-esteem. He's still working out the kinks in his sleepover technique, and Saturday looms as yet another test of his ability to spend the night away from home. This has an added degree of difficulty: In just two weeks, his class will be going on a week-long trip to Science Camp. No pressure.
To his credit, he did make it through the night last Saturday, all the way up the hill at his friend's house. He stayed up until around eleven playing video games, and when the other boys went off to bed, he stayed up and read. Fifteen minutes after that, our phone rang, and he told us that he just wanted to say goodnight. He sounded a little uneasy, but he never asked to come home. He was determined to stick it out. My wife and I did a silent cheer and hoped that we would all drift off to dreamland in our various locations.
Alas, it wasn't to be. That was the first of five calls, twenty to thirty minutes apart, each just a little more desperate. Still, he never did surrender, he just wanted us to help him get to sleep. Finally, a little after one in the morning, my wife was able to calm him down enough to listen to a story that put him to sleep. Then we were stuck with the quandary of what to do with the phone. If we hung up, the dial tone on the other end might break through the sonorous breathing of our exhausted son, and we would have to start all over. My wife put the phone under a pillow, and we rolled over and went to sleep ourselves.
The reckoning the next day was partly from lack of sleep, but mostly from a profound doubt about what the next step should be. I know that my son is at least a third-generation victim of sleep deprivation. He has never been comfortable going to sleep by himself. I recognize this from my own childhood, when I used to have my father come in and count the number of songs that I could stay awake for as the night stretched on in front of me. The hours left to sleep decreased as my anxiety mounted. The desperation I used to feel on those Sunday nights before returning to school still show up in my life before I start something new. Being away from home only exacerbates the situation. My mother lived through much of the same in her youth.
What can I tell my son? It gets easier. You get used to it. You find other things to think about. At some level, I'm pleased and happy that my son is so very much in love with his home that he doesn't want to leave it. That must mean we've done something right, but now it's about time that we need to start the hostage negotiations. We've got to set him free. I don't want to be the reason that he didn't go to Science Camp, and I don't want to be the reason he had to come home after that first night.
We've got another couple of weekends to make it work. It's not as much about building a comfort zone as much as giving him survival skills. I know exactly how he feels, and that's why I feel such horrible ambivalence. I know someday he'll be gone for real, and then I'll wish that he would come back, if only just to visit. Cat's in the cradle and all that jazz. But I want my son to see just a little more of the world than I have seen, and if that starts with fifth grade Science Camp, so be it.