A few months ago, a friend of mine took Riley to a birthday party for me because neither Mike nor I could go, and It. Felt. Strange. It’s not that my kids have never been somewhere without me. They’ve been dropped off at preschool since they were (not quite) two years old, they’ve gone on excursions and been left overnight with family, and I trust my Mama friends unconditionally with my kids. Yet, I felt like I missed something when my baby went to that birthday party without me.
In actuality, his going to that party without me (or Daddy), without separation anxiety, and without any accidents (he was newly trained at that point) was a milestone, which made me wish I’d been there even more. I know that would’ve defeated the purpose, but there comes a point on the journey of motherhood when a Mama realizes her children – who she often complains about being too needy – suddenly and without warning need her (gulp) less. When a Mama starts to feel this subtle disentanglement from her offspring, she’s allowed to have irrational, illogical thoughts. For some Mamas, this is the period of time in which they consider having another child. For me, it’s when I make sure there’s plenty of cold Pino Grigio in the fridge.
This week at camp, Dylan went on his first-ever field trip. To get to the local children’s art museum (this week’s field trip destination), he rode a big yellow school bus for the very first time. Without me.
During the school year, we often counted how many school buses we saw on the drive to school (we also clapped when we saw trucks…Riley’s idea). Once I asked Dylan, “Would you like to go on a school bus?” He asked, “Will you be with me?” I said, “No, mommies don’t go on school buses. Just kids.” He responded, “I don’t want to go on a school bus.”
This week, he could not have been more excited about his adventure to come. As soon as he woke up, he hammered me with questions. “Is today the day I go on a bus?” “Where will the bus take me?” “Will I have to wait outside for the bus by myself?” “Are my friends going on the bus?”
I know it’s beautiful, amazing, and important that he did this all by himself, and I couldn’t be more proud of my big boy for doing something new (and loving it), especially when it elicited so much anxiety just a few short months ago. Still, like Riley’s first solo birthday party, I wish I could have been there to witness this incredible act of growing up.
On field trip days, we’ve been instructed to pack a brown bag lunch. At the camp open house earlier in the week, I asked the camp director, “Do you mean brown bag lunch figuratively or literally?” She said, “Literally. Everything has to be tossed away at the end.”
No lunch box? No ice pack? No reusable, environmentally friendly snack bags? What on earth would I pack for Dylan who eats a perishable lunch of yogurt, cheese, and orange juice almost every day? If he didn’t open his “Star Wars” lunch box to find his favorite (cold) lunch foods, he would hold it against me forever. Or, he would run away. Or, he would melt into a puddle right there at the museum. I would get one of those terrifying calls from school informing me of the melting of my son. And I signed a permission slip accepting this dastardly brown bag lunch policy and releasing all liability from this two-bit camp operation! Do they even have a valid license to care for children!?
Deep breath, Helicopter Mama.
I wasn’t alone. I overheard several Mamas say, “That’s crazy.” One Mama said she’d carry her child’s lunch in a cooler in her bag when she was a field trip chaperone (good idea!). Another Mama said, “Too bad we can’t send peanut butter.” (It’s a peanut-free camp.) Someone else piped in, “You could use sun butter.” And then someone said, “My son would never fall for sun butter.” (That was me.) That evening on the phone, I told a friend, “Don’t forget to pack a brown bag lunch tomorrow. No ice packs allowed.” Her response? “What?! I can’t pack a turkey sandwich in a brown bag! You can’t let turkey go below a certain temperature!” (She works in the food industry.)
HOLD UP, MAMAS! (This pep talk is directed at me, too.) This is it. This is the moment we allow our baby birds to spread their precious little wings and fend for themselves in the big, bad (brown bag) world. They will survive the brown bag lunch, and they’ll probably enjoy it. In fact, I predict they’ll start begging for brown bag lunches every day.
After my initial panic attack, I realized a brown bag lunch is a dream come true – like a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving of popcorn and jellybeans – for my snack lover. I packed a juice box, breakfast bar, applesauce squeezer, and cheese crackers. At the last minute, I threw in some orange wedges, which I decided, after careful consideration, wouldn’t be deadly if consumed at room temperature. I packed it in an actual brown bag and simply labeled it “Dylan” with a Sharpie.
I debated decorating the bag with stickers, but in the end, I refrained. I have no idea what is or isn’t embarrassing for five- and six-year-old boys in an “all boys” camp cabin, and I want to give Dylan the best shot possible to be cool (and to have a Cool Mama.) This decision, by the way, wasn’t easy. It required a level of impulse control that, to be honest, I wasn’t sure I had and I’m not certain can be repeated on a daily basis without long-term physical and psychological consequences.
I’m trying hard to watch and listen to Dylan and Riley’s cues that they want more independence.
Editor’s note to Mamas of teenagers: Please don’t roll your eyes at my naivety. I know this is just the beginning, but I bet the beginning was hard for you to.
At three (going on ten), Riley struts into his camp cabin and doesn’t look back. No hugs, kisses or reassurance needed. He’s fine. He says, “Bye, Mommy. See you later.” Dylan pretty much does the same. It takes all of my strength not to kiss his head and say, “Have a great day, Lovebug!” or, “See you later, alligator!” But he doesn’t need (or want) it. He’s busy bonding with the boys and thinking about his next field trip, his next ride on the big yellow school bus, and his next brown bag lunch. He’s busy (gulp) growing up.
I’m thinking about a brown bag, too. To stop my hyperventilating.