We had a small rite of passage in our house this weekend. We sent son 1 (age 7) off to a two day, one night activity camp. He's had one sleepover at a friend's house before, but this was the first time that he was going away to some place entirely new and spending a night away. His friend went with him.
I had a very good reason for doing this. Yes, I thought it would be a lot of fun with the huge range of activities they could choose from (which he was hugely excited about doing), but most importantly, I wanted him to learn a little independence. He is perfectly capable of dressing himself, cleaning his teeth and even making a sandwich. If he chooses to do so. But he doesn't. He'd far rather have all those things done for him. It's also called Being A Lazy Little Sod.
I figured that sending him away for a night where he is responsible for getting himself showered, teeth cleaned, choosing his clothes out of a bag and eating his meals without his mother telling him to get his elbows off the table would be a good thing.
What I hadn't factored in was that this was son 1 I was dealing with. He has always been a sensitive child who takes a while to adapt to change. It took him two years to stop running out of school! However his recent, more confident behaviour (he even auditioned for a school play last week) lulled me into thinking that this would be something he could now manage easily.
He's just returned home wearing the same clothes he went in (he swears he did change his underpants). While there he didn't shower, clean his teeth, change clothes or even poo. This information I managed to coax out of him after I'd asked him about the activities he took part in. But it was the way he snuggled in my lap, wrapping his arms around my neck, being very small that I knew things hadn't gone quite as cheerily as he initially made it sound.
Then he revealed that he cried at night because it was too dark and he couldn't find his torch. And he didn't shower because he was doing colouring at the time when the others were showering. When I asked why, he said it was because he had been crying so they took him to do some colouring. So I asked if he had only cried those two times. But apparently, he had cried for most of day one.
When I asked why, he said: "Because I was homesick."
And even in the retelling of this, his eyes were always on the verge of overspilling, but he was trying to not show it.
Part of me feels like an awful mother for putting him through it. But another part still thinks it was the right thing to do. No, he didn't do any of the personal hygiene I'd hoped he do by himself. But he did do lots of fun things, he did push his boundaries and he did realise that actually, home is quite a nice place and mummy is not necessarily someone you can take for granted. His surly teenage behaviour of two days ago has been replaced with a docile little lamb who just wants to be cuddled.
And cuddling him is something I am more than happy to do. Because I missed him with every fibre of my being. I've been away from him before. But not having him in the house while I was there made me realise just what a hole he leaves when he's not around.
So I guess we all learned something from the camp experience. I'm not sure when we'll all be brave enough to try it again, but we will. It did remind me however of the old Alan Sherman song. If you don't know it, click the link.
But right now, I'm off to look at my sleeping boy, snuggled in his own bed with the nightlight on and his teddy tucked under his arm.