Bittersweet Summer

IMG_2287One of my happiest and saddest moments as a parent happened last Saturday. My wife and I, and our 16-year-old daughter, traveled to our children’s sleepaway camp in the Berkshires with a double purpose. Elena was returning for a day reunion with campers her age, many of whom had traveled together to Israel this summer as part of a special camp program, while many others (including Elena) had instead spent the summer away from camp doing jobs, internships, and whatnot. The other purpose of our trip was to bring home Adam, our 12-year-old, a week before camp officially ended, so he could meet with a concussion specialist, since he’s still having headaches a few weeks after his bad fall.

If you follow this column, you may know the recent history. But since it’s worthwhile info for all parents, I offer this summary: He fell backwards off a porch, after plopping down on a bungee chair; thankfully, the CAT scan of his head and neck was negative for anything bad; after bring him home for a week to rest, we took him back to camp with the understanding that he would basically be an observer, not a participant; but with color war coming up, and with the headaches lingering, we wanted him out of there.

He’s had a plague of ailments since the New Year: A broken collar bone; an appendix removal; severe stomach pain; and then the concussion.

We knew he didn’t want to come home early (he wrote us and asked if there was a “loophole”), but didn’t fight it either, since he knew it was a matter of health.

For months now, I would say that the family has basically been in a state of consciously holding it together, for each other, and mostly for Adam.

But then we arrived at camp, and there was a lot of loud joy and big hugs as Elena and her campmates reconnected with each other—and all that morphed into a Saturday religious service that included all the campers and the staff, and the parents who came up with the 16-year-olds. I’m not religious but their approach to worship is a fun kind of service with lots of singing and swaying, and, though many of the reunited teens paid more attention to each other than the service, the general mood was spirited and happy. And I really loved seeing such a smart and supportive community of adults and kids be there for each other. I felt happy for all of them, and for my children.

For me and my wife though, there was also the subplot of us being there to extract Adam. He had greeted us before the service, glum but reasonable, and was spending most of these last hours there with his friends.

At some point in the middle of the service, I started welling up, and soon took a brief walk to be apart from the service. It’s my way to live most of the time in management mode, in how am I going to deal with the life I live and the joys and challenges before me. But in those moments I felt this clarity of sadness over everything my son has had to endure of late, proud of his ability to deal, sad for his struggle.

I found myself looking forward to a time, perhaps at his Bar Mitzvah next year, when all this is behind him and I can share how awesome he’s been and how much I love and respect him.

Eric Messinger is the editor of  New York Family. He can be reached at [email protected]