A few weeks ago, I decided to send my son to summer camp. I never went to camp myself. I’m unsure if it’s because we didn’t have the means, or that my father had a policy of never letting me out of his sight for more than two days, or because I was the one who kept the entire family happy, as my sister was a challenging personality while I was the golden child. For whatever reason, I never had the camp experience as a child.
I was always envious of my friends who went every summer. They would come home with stories of dances and cute boys and new faraway friends and horses and blobs in the lake, which were gigantic rafts that everyone could bounce on at once and launch each other high into the sky before landing in the water in a fit of glee. I would learn their camp songs and pretend I understood their euphoria, but I didn’t. I didn’t understand it in that way you can't ever really understand someone else’s life experiences. You have to live your own.
Through a new student, we came upon the opportunity to squeak my son into a sought-after camp where campers usually have to wait on the wait list for years. It’s in central Texas, the hill country. It’s on a lake. It’s known for it’s focus on outdoors and athletics. My son is naturally athletic but hasn’t ever fallen in love with a sport, so this could do him miles of good. I was dreading having to fight him daily about his usage of the XBox. I looked at this surprise camp connection as a sign from the universe, something not to be missed for my child. So I jumped at the chance.
There was a hurdle to clear. He had a phone interview, which he handled with grace and respect. He was then invited to attend. All that remained was for me and his father to pay the tuition, and for me to gather all of the required paperwork and plethora of mandatory belongings. I only had a few weeks to do this, all while managing end-of-school festivities and my usual workload. I dove into my project, head, feet and all.
The camp is not cheap. Far from it. The accoutrements required were not cheap either. But luckily my husband attended the same camp for years. Not surprisingly, his mother was able to pull his old footlocker from her attic. My son wanted a navy footlocker; my husband’s 30-year-old footlocker was in fact navy. Perfect! I started scrounging all the materials together that were listed on an inventory that made my head spin. I also had to write his name in each thing; no time for fancy, iron-on labels.
One of the items was a laundry bag. We just sent my husband’s to Goodwill not long ago in my never ending efforts to keep my tiny house uncluttered. My nanny offered to bring hers over. It was plastic. I looked at it and thought, "It’s going to hold dirty clothes. Who cares? Now, how in the heck am I supposed to get all of this stuff in this tiny trunk?" I smashed and smushed and bounced my bum on the top until I could catch the latches and get the thing closed. One false move and that baby was popping open and spewing it’s contents.
When the big day came, we hauled my son to the bus drop-off point. I was impressed to find four huge buses there. Many, many families gathered to check their children in and see them off. I recognized several of them. They represented the more affluent families in town. As we walked up, I noticed the footlockers. Every single one I saw was gleaming and shining and reflecting lights off the cars and buses. There were names painted on them and stickers and images of popular culture. To my astonishment, these parents had also used the laundry bags to hold items. These laundry bags were not plastic, but cotton with names monogrammed on them in the colors and fonts that matched the accompanying footlockers. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, you could put things in the laundry bag so as to have enough room in the footlocker — things like pillows and blankets and sheets. I turned to my husband, “Did you know you could use the laundry bag for packing?” He blushed. “Oh, I forgot,” he said. He attended this same camp for seven years of his childhood. Obviously, his mother must have played a huge roll in getting him ready. I scowled at him.
To my son, I kept hearing myself say in a very high pitched, unfamiliar voice, “Your footlocker is cool because it’s vintage. Your footlocker is cool because it’s vintage.”
My son and my husband just stared at me. I laughed nervously.
That’s when I realized, these are my insecurities, not his. My brave boy climbed up onto the bus, not knowing a soul. He found a seat he liked the look of, settled in and started listening to music. I climbed up behind him. In the rows behind his chosen seat sat several boys who looked to be around the same age. They were at once checking him out and ignoring him. I started to sit by him and give him a hug but I received a "Don’t you dare" look from his keen almost-teenager eyes. He gave a half smile and nodded his head in the direction of the bus exit, as if to say, "Off you go, Mom. I’ve got this."
I smiled, patted his hand and exited the bus, knowing all I could do is hope that I have instilled this boy with enough self-esteem and enough confidence that he can survive any inevitable amount of teasing that he might receive because his belongings look different. "I shouldn't have packed that Transformers blanket," I silently admonished myself as I departed the bus.
Later, I drove to Austin to visit a friend for a couple of days. On my drive, I became abundantly aware that some very rudimentary insecurities about not belonging to the affluent crowd still existed. Had you asked me about them two days prior, I would have scoffed and quoted something yogic about how we are all worthy of love and belonging no matter what. And while yes, my conscious mind clearly and completely subscribes to this theory, somewhere deep down, my subconscious mind has not caught on. And at the same time, I am thankfully learned enough to know that what I need in light of this is more loving kindness. Coming down on myself for this learning was not going to serve anyone, least of all me.
I offer you this humbly. What is your practice when you see your insecurities in the light? Are you able to ladle yourself with loving kindness and acceptance regardless? I hope so. Truly, I do. Because it's only in getting to know our shadow that our true light begins to shine.