The Beginning of the End

The final countdown has started.  Given that this is a blog about living with cancer, I feel compelled to immediately point out that the countdown to which I am referring is not the countdown nor is the “End” in the title above that End.  At least not as far as I know.  Instead, although it may feel somewhat like it (in my patented overly-dramatic fashion), it is the commencement of the last couple of days with Will before he ships off to camp, an event that has filled me with trepidation, anxiety and, quietly, amazement.

A week ago in this space (, I touched upon my building fears of this moment as one living with cancer who overly values time often at the expense of using it prudently.  The activity of contemplating how much time there may (or may not) be left becomes almost more engrossing than what one could actually do with it.  To that end, I have awakened each morning since that posting more anxious than the previous about the imminent departure. 

To assuage my growing sense of separation anxiety, I have engaged in rather poor parenting over these last few days.  Both last night and the night before, after Will had already retired for the evening to his own room, I nonetheless barged in and asked him if he would like to relocate to the big armchair in our bedroom to watch Marvel movies with me.  Lest one think I am overly selfish, the armchair does have a large, cushy matching Ottoman so that it is almost long enough to make a full bed for his nine-year-old frame.  Of course, since we live in the Northeast, an area of the country that likes to extend the school year until nearly July, Will still had to go to school each day, so my keeping him awake to watch movies with me seems rather questionable and not just a bit self-centered on my part. 

And yet I did not want to reign in my behavior.  I am trying to wring every last moment of time with him out of these last few days, without, of course, seeming like I am doing so.  There is a very fine line one must toe at this juncture:  We want Will to know how much we will miss him without letting him know how much we will miss him.  Such subtleties are not my area of expertise given that my approach to sensitive situations is often unfiltered bluntness, such as the time I informed my parents that if listening to me was a class they each would have flunked it.  Raw emotion is not my forte. 

This need, however, to balance matters delicately came into sharpest focus the other day when I attempted to pen a letter to Will.  I remember, 35 years ago though it was, when I first arrived at my sleepaway camp having a letter awaiting my arrival from my father.  Thus, I wanted Will to know as soon as he got to camp that even though he was away physically he would not be away from us emotionally – whether he liked it or not.  Yet I had been given some advice by a colleague who has been through this pre-camp-letter-writing experience before:  Don’t tell them how much you miss them or it might make them upset.  Don’t tell them what is going on at home as they may feel left out.  Don’t talk about how much you can’t wait to see them as it might make them anxious and want the experience to be over.  I am sure that when my father composed his letter to me those 35 years ago, he worried not a whit about any of these things.  But I actually will never know as his handwriting was so atrocious that I couldn’t make out more than a few words of what he had written.  Similarly, I decided that whatever I was to write would have to be done on the computer.  My handwriting, which was never my strong suit anyway, has deteriorated as rapidly as the quality of my bone marrow.  Plus, despite the never-ending school year up here, they seem to not have time to teach students in New York public schools how to write – much less read – cursive.  It is a lost art, like map-reading, spelling, or thinking. 

As anyone who has read any of my blog knows, I am quite skillful at extrapolating for paragraph upon paragraph about virtually nothing.  But even for me and my love of my own thoughts, it was quite the struggle to come up with topics for this typed letter to Will.  And although I had so much to say, because I felt like none of it might be prudent, I had to really constrain my choice of topics.  Consequently, I filled the letter with half-thoughts and generic topics.  I prattled on about how proud Melissa and I are of him, which of course we are, but to state why seemed to be cutting a little too close to the bone.  Thus, I guess he will either be left just feeling good about himself (hopefully) or wondering what he had done to deserve such praise.  (The difference between Will and me is that he will likely choose option #1 whereas I would be obsessed over door #2.  You decide who is better adjusted.)  I also gave some important and fun-killing advice such as “try to make sure you eat some fruits and vegetables each day” and “try to keep your retainer in the same place each day so as not to lose it.”  In retrospect, it probably would have been better if I had written the letter by hand so he could not decipher it since in describing it I realize what a dud it is. 

But before he departs in just over two days, we will engage in what I believe is universal pre-camp ritual:  Making it all about him.  This is a bit of a risky strategy as it seems that it might backfire and make the separation even more difficult as he may think as he boards that bus, “Wait.  If I can get such great treatment at home, why do I want to go sleep in a non-air-conditioned room full of sweaty boys whom I barely know out in the middle of nowhere for seven weeks?”  To bolster this point, I can still remember the day’s activities before I was deported to camp the first time.  They included going with my mother to see Ghostbusters – the original one, of course – and lunch at Taco Bell.  I was a simple child.  We already have his “last meals” mapped out – two diners on that day.  We do live on Long Island after all, where “diner” is more properly referred to as “Traditional American.”

I know Will will have a wonderful time, and I am proud of him for so embracing this adventure and the unknown.  It is just summer camp, but I think it is a large step towards independence for a nine-year-old child to leave all he knows for such a long stretch.  He has surpassed my expectations for him at this stage, which obviously shows he is more like Melissa than like his old man.  What a relief.  Maybe I will just let her write all the letters from now on and then just sign my name to them.  Hopefully he will be having too much fun to bother reading them anyway. 

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