He remained there for nine weeks, hiking and pitching a tent and making his own food and on occasion trying to escape through the sagebrush that led to more sagebrush, until his explosiveness had racheted down enough for him to transition to a residential treatment facility.
There were several months, months when he railed against every rule and intervention, when I didn’t know if he would ever come home. I thought he might have to stay in a therapeutic setting through high school.
This morning, just two years after the start of that ordeal, I dropped Luca off at the bus that would take him to summer camp.
A regular summer camp. The kind where kids swim and waterski and play paintball and put on talent shows. He will be there for a month. And he will be a CIT (counselor-in-training).
I honestly believe that wilderness camp was a kind of walkabout, an Aboriginal custom in which boys venture alone into the wild, and if they make it back, they return as young men. I think some kids need that kind of ritual to transition to a successful adolescence. And I can say, without a sliver of hyperbole, that Luca’s modern-day walkabout saved his life.
* * *
Two years ago, I sat in a parent workshop, sobbing along with other parents who wondered if their kids were beyond saving. This morning, I stood at the bus stop with parents who sobbed at the thought of not seeing their kids for a few weeks.
Those were the parents of young kids. Those of us with older kids were kind of looking forward to a break. Or, as one joyous dad whooped as the buses drove out of the parking lot: “We’re free!”
Free is a good word for how I felt this morning. Free of the weight of indescribable anxiety. Free of the agony that cloaked years of a divorce-induced ruptured relationship with my oldest child.
Luca and I are back to a relatively normal mother-son dynamic now. Everything I do provokes eye-rolling and embarrassed winces.
“You want me to go, don’t you?” I asked Luca, as throngs of kids walked to the buses.
“You can do what you want, Mom,” he said.
I wanted to follow him to the bus, but I was stopped by a mother who asked me to take a picture of her and her son. When I was done, I turned around to look for Luca, but he had disappeared into the crowd.
I walked along the line of buses, staring into windows, hoping to find him. But the sky was overcast, and the windows were too dark to see into.
I walked back to my car and was about to take off, when I heard a text come through on my phone.
Where are you? Luca texted.
Which bus r u on? I texted back.
Closest to the check in.
I hurried to the last bus in line. Luca walked down the steps and grinned sheepishly as he held his arms out.
“Love you, Mom.”
“Love you too, honey.”
He shook my hand for good measure and climbed back onto the bus.
I took my place in the crowd of parents outside the bus windows, waving to their kids.
Luca looked out the window a few times, giving me a cool-dude nod as I smiled and waved.
I watched the bus pull out of the driveway, and I wondered how it was possible that this kid, who just two years ago was a raging mess, had morphed into a young man responsible enough to be a counselor to little kids.
I think it was wilderness camp. And the winding-down of a hellacious divorce. Maybe a developmental lag that he outgrew. It doesn’t matter how it happened, really. It just matters that it did.
Today, I’m thankful that my son went to summer camp.