Today is a big day for our family - a really big day for our son.
Most Mondays, the alarm rings at 6.30. We take the dog out for a walk. Feed the dog and prepare breakfast for our son. Coffee is made and consumed. Lunch packed. Then out the door to school.
This particular, rainy morning, however, everything began at 5 AM. And it ended not with a quick ride to school, but instead with me waving to him as he cleared security at SFO.
Today our little guy is off on his own for a week to "School at Sea" in San Diego.
It's his first time away from home on his own. Now, Alastair of course has been "away" many times. We lived overseas for a couple of years, and he has had the chance to visit upwards of 40 countries in his brief 10 years of life. San Diego is not exactly "exotic," even with the expolits of Ron Burgundy now famous.
But it is equally true that thus far, every single day of his life, he has spent with either his mother, with me, or with us both. He's never spent the night away from home. And so, needless to say, he was just a bit anxious in the days leading up.
Though life itself is a more or less continuous function, it is frequently delineated by quite discrete "moments." Some of these events are obvious - first day at school, for example. Others are a bit obscure at the time, and become remembered as critical only later after the story of our lives is more fully revealed.
Last night, as we were preparing for bed, Alastair made it known subtly that he was just a wee bit nervous (a ten year old boy is a bit at sixes and sevens - he is too old to be obviously nervous, but not too cool to want to let us know when he is worried.) He was asking about what it would be like to be away, what he might expect at the camp.
I told him that at the same age, we had a pretty similar experience (in truth - I was fudging a bit, as our week away at "Camp School" happened in grade six and not five). At eleven, the lot of our class was loaded up into a school bus (we rode buses, and did not have the luxury of flying, even if on Southwest Airlines) and were off for a week at "Mohican School in the Out-of-Doors".
I remember being quite anxious to be away - like Alastair - for the first time in life. We lived in "cabins," with community dining hall across the campus, supervised by counselors whom we had not seen. I can remember the "hall" I lived in, and the 'tribe' a belonged to. (This was 35 years ago, and thus the subject of whether naming our groups after Native American tribes was offensive or not had not yet arisen to our suburban consciousness).
Alastair is paired with his new best friend at his school, which is in a sense better than I was positioned, as all my friends from school were in different cabins and tribes.
In retrospect, it didn't really matter. What I remember the most about the week was not that my friends slept in different cabins, ate at different tables, or "studied" in different tribes, I remember the first senses of independence; of being somewhat responsible to get up and get to breakfast on time, and then to class on my own. Of course, there were counselors (in our case, Mr Rensberger, for whom we quickyl ginned up an unfortunate nickname for) to ensure we did not colour too far outside the lines.
I told Alastair about our week catching crayfish in the creek and feeding them to the school mascot, a raccoon. So many were fed by all of us that at mid-week, we were all instructed by the camp leadership to cease, as the poor animal was nearly bursting from a too-rich seafood diet.
It's three and a half decades later, and I can still recall the anxiousness of course, but also the evenings walking back under the stars, the making new friends, and the exhiliration of being away. When the week was up, we all loaded back onto our bus and returned home to our awaiting parents.
I waved good-bye to my little boy this morning as he showed his boarding card to the agents, put his backpack on the x-ray belt, and then walked away down the ramp to his gate. He stopped, turned to wave, and then went on with his friend Luc, discussing topics I can only guess at (I suspect Rubik's Cube was involved somehow, as Luc had one in his backpack waiting the boarding).
Alastair will come back at the end of the week, and has crossed another of the events defining his life. It's a small one, but nevertheless a significant one. He is surely anxious, just as I was, but I suspect that he is in for an exititing week with his friends. And I also suspect he will have several stories that, in 35 years, he will be regailing his own kids with.
I'm sure he will have fun, and he will have no trouble to put aside his worries and sleep just fine.
Now, if we can ensure that his mom does the same....