Big Guy left on Sunday for two weeks of sleepaway camp. It's the first time he's ever gone; his case management program provided the funding. So we went to Target last week to shop for skivvies and socks and insect repellent and a sleeping bag.
We were already on the train when he said he didn't want to go. I mean, he DIDN'T WANT TO GO.
He didn't want to go to Target. He didn't want to go to camp. In fact, he WASN'T going to go to camp, and I couldn't make him.
I mustered my calm indifference and said, "It sounds like you're anxious about something. You need to figure out what, and then we can talk about it."
But naturally I was wrong; he DIDN'T WANT TO GO.
I smiled with faux-serenity and said, "Ah, but remember you never want to go anywhere. This is new, which means it's unknown and scary. It will be fine once you get there."
No, he DIDN'T WANT TO GO. He hates swimming, he hates being outdoors, he hates everything about this camp he's never been to. (He loves swimming and the outdoors.)
I shrugged, imitating nonchalance. I've been through this before. I've been though it a million times. I ignored the small corner of my brain that was hyperventilating (What if we've made all these plans and he bails? What if I have to deal with a bored and difficult teenager for two hot weeks?). Panic never makes anything better. It never makes me a more insightful mother. It never helps me respond in a more appropriate way. Sorry, panic -- you'll have to wait.
I told Big Guy that if camp was truly awful and truly miserable, I would compensate him for his misery.
"How much?" he demanded.
"What's reasonable?" I countered. After a moment he said it didn't matter because he wasn't going.
We arrived at Target and went to see about sneakers. He didn't want sneakers. He certainly didn't want any of those sneakers. In fact, he didn't need shoes (he was wearing falling-apart work boots in 95-degree heat). He didn't want shirts (he only has five, all of which he's chewed) or socks ("I hate socks!") or anything else because he DIDN'T WANT TO GO.
I nodded, and began looking at shirts. Big Guy scowled and walked off. Shopping suddenly became rather peaceful.
A corner of my brain considered worrying about him or not, but instead I chose to remember how much easier this kind of thing is now than it was when he was seven.
* * * *
When Big Guy was younger, I couldn't let him stomp off to cool off. Back then I had to weigh many more variables: he had less self-control and could get hurt, or hurt me, or hurt someone else; I could get in legal trouble if I let him wander alone; I usually had other children with me, and had to figure out how to run after him and stay with the others at the same time. It was impossible.
When you're in impossible situations, you eventually learn that you're never going to handle things ideally, because, well, there's not always a best solution. Sometimes there's not even a good solution. The only chance you have to maybe handle things better than the last time is to keep a clear head. So you learn to talk yourself into that.
* * * *
At Target I shopped for half an hour and then Big Guy re-appeared. "I thought I'd find you somewhere around here," he commented, neutrally. I showed him what I'd put in the cart, and he approved of everything except the socks, which he prefers at ankle height, and the toothpaste, because he doesn't like minty flavors.
We found different toothpaste and socks, and went to the checkout. We didn't buy shoes.
* * * *
I've been stupidly looking on the camp's Facebook page every couple of hours, hoping that a photo of Big Guy will show up. Snuggler caught me at it, and looked at me with disbelief. "You know he hates having his picture taken. They're not going to post a picture of someone who's hiding his face or who looks annoyed that he's being photographed!"
She's right, of course. But I do think that may be his ratty black work boot in the lower left-hand corner of this picture. I can't tell for sure, because I can't smell it from here. But it looks like it might have the same olfactory effect. I almost miss it. I do miss my guy. Even though the quiet around here is kind of nice.