Our twin boys return from sleep away camp in a few hours. Wishing for their return means wishing the summer away, and closing their cabin door means stepping into a home which feels distant and awkward. Experience prepares us for the requisite how to’s: how to prepare for that big game and big exam. But what prepares our kids (and us) for re-entry into a comfortable, yet foreign land? Just because we want them home, doesn’t mean they want to be there.
Re-entry, by definition, is the return to a once familiar place after a period of absence. By way of immersing oneself in a new environment, we let go of our routine and shed a part of ourselves. You may have heard the term used in space flight, astronauts needing to adapt while cutting themselves off from the world. Re-entry to Earth requires atmospheric precision. Too shallow or too steep can have catastrophic consequences. Southwest Airlines is touching down with similar forces.
The twins are almost fifteen. It would be too limiting to say they're fourteen, when their minds and bodies are beginning to push the limits. I've studied their camp photos daily, the pictures the camp has posted to their website that document the swift passage of time sweeping through my children's bodies. Slow down. Please. Stay my babies a little longer.
In a world where technology and social media have stained the purest forms of childhood innocence, camp is both a luxury and a step back in time. It is the ultimate disconnect from the electronics that have held our fingers hostage. It is a safe haven for building lifelong friendships; the idyllic place that remains in our hearts long after we have parted. Where else can you have a sleep over with your best friends that lasts seven weeks? Where else can you be that person you lost during the school year, the one who is swathed in the insulated cocoon of campfires, songfest, and brotherhood? And sure you have to make your bed every morning, but it’s a small price to play for wakeboarding on the lake, Color War, and kissing that girl for the very first time.
Both authentic and artificial, summer camp teases through simple pleasures until those touched are fully immersed. The ties to home and the trappings of youth are shorn with the first sip of bug juice. It is no wonder departing from such a bucolic existence plunges us into the delicate balancing act of re-entry.
There's no preparation for the return to academics, early alarm clocks, and our parents’ expectations. There's no playbook for the onslaught of Instagram posts, FOMO, or the collision between home friends and the raw, nostalgic grasp of those we left behind. And as parents, nothing will really prepare us for our sons’ quiet indifference. The gentle hugs that are at first long and hard will quickly become shorter and lighter. We may never know about the girl they kissed or how often they brushed their teeth. Pretending we didn't miss them with every single breath while watching as they pore over their phones for the connection to camp. There’s no rule book on how to suppress our feelings so as not to overwhelm them with ours.
Re-entry means asking questions, but in a subtle enough way they don't know we are prying. Or listening when all we want to do is ask more questions. Getting close, but giving them space. Allowing them to dip their toes into the cool water, slowly finding a rhythm and pace to their return.
Before you know it, the mornings will again become hectic. There will be screaming about homework and exams. And in some point, in the not so distant future, we will all be counting down the days until summer rolls around again, followed by yet another re-entry as our boys continue to grow up too quickly.