The Other Side of Homesickness

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

My son left for summer camp in the big woods of northern Wisconsin last week. We have no contact with him, no email, phone calls or texts and although I can write to him as much as I like, “Mom, I’m not writing you any letters.”

I know that. My son is 11. His greatest joy in life is running around with other boys his own age, on skates, on his bike, in the front yard, with a soccer ball, without a soccer ball, making up games with Wiffle ball bats and volleyballs. He wants to be anywhere but here with me and his two sisters. Perhaps this is to be expected, normal, developmentally appropriate. Even though I want my son to be independent, it’s difficult for me to accept his need to run.

The girls and I are surprised at how much we miss him. My older daughter has been cleaning his room. She’s organized desk drawers, dusted Lego ships, sorted through hockey cards, and I can only imagine his reaction when he returns home and realizes she touched his trophies.

My younger daughter loves openly and passionately with constant exclamations of devotion. “I miss my brother. Mom, I miss him so much. Do you think he misses me? I don’t think he misses me. Maybe he might miss you a little, but I don’t think he misses me.”

I tell her I don’t think he misses me either. She asks when he’s coming home. I tease her a little. When he is home, all they do is fight. I can’t have the two of them in the same room for more than 35 seconds without someone screeching over Legos.

A silence I thought would be welcome instead descended with a thud the morning he left and sits, heavy, not moving, in the spaces of our home. I walk into the silence, stand still, breathe deeply and gather the strength to walk through it. I miss his energy and the vibrations of a living body moving, bouncing, sprinting, jumping on a scooter, the noises of wheels tearing around the driveway, the smack of a hockey puck, the voices of other boys in the yard, the screen door slamming, “Mom, I’m leaving, I’m going to Vince’s house.”

He’s always leaving.

Yesterday we received the mandatory post card the counselors make them write on the second day of camp.

“I’m having a blast here. I leave for trail on Saturday.
“From, Will”

That night I had a dream that he was drowning. Brown water slipping over his head, I could feel him not breathing, slowly sinking into the lake. I woke up with a pounding heart, adrenaline rushing through my veins. I tried convincing myself it was 3:00 in the morning and he was safely asleep in a bunk bed in a cabin in the woods. In my mind I pictured him snuggled under his fuzzy Blackhawks blanket, his head with its new buzz cut resting on his Western Conference pillow, his chest rising and falling, breathing, dreaming, sleeping peacefully. Nothing I did to try to calm myself down worked. Haunted by the intensity of my dream, I never fell back to sleep.

When the next day my older daughter asks what’s wrong, I tell her I’m tired, I didn’t get much sleep, and I tell her about my dream. “Mom, you know dreams are reflections of stuff you are afraid of.”

I’ve thought about that. I’m sure there are many interpretations of any dream but no doubt I’m anxious about him. What scares me isn’t the lake in the big woods of northern Wisconsin, what I’m afraid of is the silence when my son leaves to conquer bigger waters, when he is no longer a boy. The day the screen door slams, he has grown into a man and he leaves for the trail.