Yesterday we dropped our older son off at camp — his (and our) first experience of sleep-away camp. He rushed to get a top bunk, taped up photos of the family, an art project of his brother’s, and a glossy photo (likely, I assume, to fall down quite soon) of Derek Jeter, and found his way to a game of four-square (a schoolyard favorite of his) where he both showed proper deference to the kids already in the game and quickly established his prowess (“i’m a good kid, not a jerk, but I’m the best — keep that in mind” his mode of play said). In other words — he was in his territory, in his element, ready to go. Counselor after counselor told us that they had been coming to the same came for 5,6,8 years — since they were kids, and we could very easily picture our son as having just entered one end of that same sequence — with a series of stop motion summers ending up with him in the counselor’s spot ready to go off to college in the fall. He was taking his first big stride into independence.
But that left us. All day his younger brother had been bad, angry, fighting — not happy to see his world changed, his brother gone, his brother confirmed as older and, well, independent. And for Marina and me there is that big empty room, the boy who is not there to look at the Yankee score in the morning, squabble with over computer time, escort to one game or another, pester about reading and history and math, hack around with at the town pool, remind to eat well and challenge at 20 Questions. Just as his departure to camp seemed the launch of a ship that will keep sailing on into adulthood, it was also the very beginning of what will be another phase for us — for a new family configuration of 3 not 4, but then of 2 not 3. We have a long way to go — but we felt the change, how dependent we are on the kids making up some part of who we are — even as we are off to write, speak, read, teach.
In the June 24 TLS there is a wonderful review of a new collection of essays by Virginia Woolf in which she says about the letters of Horace Walpole and William Cole, “the only way to read letters to is to read them…stereoscopically, Horace is partly Cole; Cole is partly Horace.” In other words we are shaped by the person we are writing to, the people we live with, the son we send off to begin his own life without us. Independence reminds us of the word it contains — our dependence on one another.