I just finished putting my seven-year old daughter on a bus to Bemidji, Minnesota for a week-long stay at Spanish Immersion camp. I can't stop crying.
When I woke up this morning at 3:00am, I knew the departure was going to be rough. I kept mindf#@king the supply list, mentally going over it one last time (ha!) to make sure that Em has everything she needs. I thought it ironic that the parent handbook stressed the importance of the children packing lightly, yet they put 75 things on the friggin' list, including sleeping bag, pillow, a set of sheets, three towels, backpack, laundry bag, clothes appropriate for any weather, rain gear, four kinds of shoes, water bottle, sunscreen, industrial-strength mosquito spray, stationery, Spanish books, toiletries, and other assorted camp fare. When all was said and done, my kid looked like a mini-version of a Tibetan sherpa.
Beaner and I had breakfast at Caribou Coffee, and we discussed some of the new experiences she would be having over mochas and scones. We talked about cabins, bunk beds, group showers (Eeeeek!), counselors, campfires and deer ticks. Whereas Emma was totally calm, I was rapidly becoming a screaming mimi. I was reassuring her left and right, telling her how much fun she was going to have in North Country. I stressed the added benny of having a whole week without parental supervision. Needless to say, she was thrilled.
After breakfast, we headed to the Brookdale Mall, the location of the bus pickup. Given my anal-retentive personality, we naturally arrived forty-five minutes early. There were already dozens of older kids loitering with their luggage, waiting to get on their assigned bus. I didn't see any parents accompanying the kids, so I figured they've all done the dealio before. In a moment of parenting inspiration, I opted to refrain from dragging my child over to the congregation, thus sparing her the nauseating humility of having her mother doting after her, fixing her hair, quadruple checking her backpack, and giving her a spit bath. Instead, we spent the next thirty minutes talking, laughing, and cuddling in the front seat. As I looked into her beautiful green eyes, I started to get choked up at the thought of my little girl leaving. The only words she kept repeating were "Just don't cry. Just don't cry. Just don't cry." The more she said it, the closer the tears came.
Once the other kids started to board the buses, I felt it was safe to exit the vehicle. A Minnesota Nice camp counselor approached the car ("Hey there! How ya doin' today? Where'ya headed to, young lady?") and checked her in. He pointed us to Bus #2 and instructed her on how to stow her luggage. We walked to the bus together and another Nice welcomed her and took her bag ("Spanish Bemidji, eh? Sounds good!"). Before we knew it, it was time for THE MOMENT: the final hug goodbye. Emma was self-conscious about the other kids witnessing her mother have a potential emotional meltdown, so she made the hug and kiss brief but meaningful. Right before she stepped onto the bus, she turned around, gave me one of her priceless toothless grins, and gave me the "I love you" sign. Lower lip quivering, I returned the gesture and watched my only child disappear into the darkness of the luxury coach.
For the next ten minutes, I sat in my car and cried. It just didn't seem possible that EmmaBean was already old enough to be parent-free! Even though she has been away from us several times before, there wasn't the comfort of Mim, Nana Jean, Auntie Suz, Jackie or Shellie to soothe my nervous tendencies. I am now being forced to trust strangers with my precious angel. As any parent can attest, it's harder than it sounds.
After realizing that I actually needed to drive my car, I wiped my face and tried to exit the mall to go to my next destination. It literally took me another fifteen minutes to decipher Google maps, my iPhone GPS system, the labyrinthine side streets, the parking medians, and the Sears Tire Shop. I finally finally finally got out of the damn mall parking lot with tears still streaming down my face.
My rational side knows that Emma will be fine. Actually, she'll be more than fine. She'll be fantastic. She is a naturally adventurous, open person who welcomes new people and activities in her world. I know she'll be talking non-stop on Saturday about how totally cool camp was and how excited she is to return. But my rational side isn't in charge right now. The crazy, nervous-nellie, emotional, sentimental, basket-case mommy side is in control and she doesn't like it one little bit that her little girl is on a bus to Bemidji right now.
Wow. I can't even fathom what I'm gonna be like when she goes on her first date.