My 12 year old son is headed off to lacrosse camp tomorrow. Sleep-away camp. It's his first time at sleep-away camp, and although I'm the one who suggested it (indeed, I'm the only sleep-away camp advocate in this house), I've been freaking out as we pack him up and get ready to ship him off.
He and I spent almost an hour in Target earlier today making sure he had all the necessary toiletries and other camp goods. Travel sized shampoo – check. Travel toothbrush and accompanying travel-sized toothpaste – check. Sunscreen (a million SPF because we all know he'll apply it once if he applies it at all) – check. Laundry bag (my son: Why do I need that?) – check. Go Phone with unlimited mobile-to-mobile minutes – almost check.
Last year it was "the summer of the contact lenses." When he asked for contact lenses the prior September, we let him know that he had to meet certain goals before we'd agree: washing hands after using the bathroom without being reminded, cleaning his room without (much) fuss, and getting the optometrist to give her consent. It took him over a year from the initial serious conversation, but he was out of his glasses and into contact lenses before he hopped on the middle school bus.
This year it is "the summer of the cell phone." Slowly but surely, my son is growing up. We've avoided the cell phone thing for a while now. My 10 year old daughter has been asking for one since 3rd grade, but my son just hasn't been interested. It makes sense, as my daughter is the one who takes the house phone into her room and blathers on about God knows what until someone else in the house needs to make a call.
My son, on the other hand, has never been on the phone for longer than three minutes, and his longest calls involve leaving insanely detailed voice messages on our cell phones when he arrives home from school ahead of us. “Hi, Dad. It’s your son. Um, Joe? I’m home. You’re not. It’s 3:25. I don’t have a lot of homework, just a couple pages of math. Oh, and I have to read a story. I don’t know what it’s about....” Phone calls with friends usually sound more like, "Hey, wanna play Wii at my house? Cool. See ya."
Right around December 25th, however, things changed. His friends got cell phones. His friends' friends got cell phones. It seemed that every person over the age of eight had a cell phone. Though we were resistant the first time he broached the subject, as we began loosening the apron strings in other areas of his life, the idea of getting our almost-teen-aged son a cell phone seemed increasingly plausible. Not too long ago, we sat down with our son and had an updated version of our pre-contact lens conversation.
We let him know that he had to meet certain goals before we'd agree: losing the chip on his shoulder when we ask him to practice drums or lacrosse, taking out the garbage without us having to ask three times, and, the biggie, going several weeks without losing his house or locker keys, iPod, Nintendo DS, or anything else of any importance.
I wish I could say that he's met all of these goals. It sure would've made my pre-camp trip to Target less of an ethical dilemma. As it stands, however, he still has keys or iPod or glasses go missing semi-frequently (though he claims none of these disappearances is his fault).
So, as I stood in front of the Go Phone display in Target, my son's attention successfully diverted by an aisle full of Wii games and accessories, I had to decide whether he was really ready for a phone or if I just really wanted to be able to get in touch with him while he was away at camp.
I had the Go Phone in my hand. I was standing at the electronics counter, ready to make a purchase, but sales help was nowhere to be found. As I waited, I called my husband.
"Am I crazy?" I asked, "Should I do this? Is he ready? Does he need it?"
"He'll be fine," my husband assured me, "Relax."
So I did. Sort of. After pulling myself out of the electronics section, I gathered my son, bought the rest of his camp gear, and got out of there, managing to avoid making a long-term decision based on pre-camp mom psychosis.
I'm still fighting the psychosis. I want so badly to write little notes and hide them throughout his duffel bag, but after picturing some bonehead reading them aloud to the whole camp I've decided against it.
Meanwhile, he's all packed up and ready to go, and I'm sitting here worried that he'll be homesick and, thanks to my rational decision, unable to call home at will. It's a sure bet, however, that the stash of junk food I've hidden in his duffel bag in lieu of little notes will go a long way to distract him from homesickness and ensure popularity with his campmates.
I know it makes me feel better. Wish us luck.