What Austin Brought to Camp

Shawn Brimley, husband of DC widow blog writer Marjorie, is hugged by his grandmother when he was a child

On Saturday, I helped Austin pack for camp. We went through the extensive list of things he needed, and near the end, I pointed to his toiletry bag.

“Austin, you have a toothbrush, toothpaste and some soap,” I said. “What else do you think you’ll need for the bathroom?”

Austin looked at the bag and then at his body. “Nothing,” he said, and shrugged. “Actually, I probably won’t even use most of the soap.”

I laughed, though he wasn’t trying to make a joke. He is really low-maintenance. It’s one of the many ways that Austin is just like his dad. (Once, about 6 or 7 years ago, Shawn went on a week-long hike by himself with only one pair of underwear. He did come back with hilarious stories about why that probably wasn’t a great idea. I remember thinking at the time how I would never have forgotten extra underwear!)

In any case, I didn’t make Austin pack shampoo or floss or whatever else I would definitely have had to pack in Claire’s bag. I figured that he needed to make those decisions by himself. Just because I would never go anywhere without my lotion and conditioner doesn’t mean he needed it, right?

Yesterday, we headed up to camp. I left Claire and Tommy back with friends and headed off on the 3-hour trip with just Austin. He was thrilled, though he didn’t jump up and down. Austin is not like his extroverted siblings, and though he will certainly talk when given the chance, he is likely to end up in the role of “stage manager” if the kids decide to put on a play. He’s happy that way, behind the scenes. (So was his dad.)

We spent a lot of time in the car just listening to the songs Austin chose from my Spotify account. Like his father, Austin can put on a great tune and look out the window for long spans of time. (Once, when Shawn was doing the same thing on a long trip, I asked him what he was thinking about. “Nothing,” he replied. I marveled at how he could clear his mind so easily. “I never think about nothing,” I said back to him, and he chuckled.)

Austin broke these long stretches of silence with a few random comments. He loved marveling at expensive cars we passed and we talked about whether we’d want a Porsche or a Ferrari if we had millions of dollars. We also spent a good 20 minutes discussing the various ways that he might get a tick bite at camp.

But mostly we rode in relative silence, appreciating that we could share the space with each other. It’s one of my favorite things about Austin. Just like it was one of my favorite things about his dad.

We arrived at camp, and I tried to engage Austin. He was quiet, and took to looking through the owner’s manual of the car while I checked in his luggage. I could tell he was nervous, because he barely responded to my questions, and once we got out of the car, he cast his eyes downward.

We saw friends, including his godparents Becky and Josh, and then I took him to meet his counselor. I knew a long exit would be a bad idea, so I quietly said goodbye. He gave me a small hug, and then looked down at the table where he sat. I turned around at the door and his counselor gave me a thumbs-up.

I walked outside the dining hall and ran into Becky and Josh, who were waiting for me. I told them the story of packing Austin’s toiletry bag for camp and we all laughed. I was feeling good about leaving Austin. Even if he was shy, I was sure he was going to love camp.

I started driving home. A few minutes into the drive, I realized something important: I never told Austin’s counselors about his dad.

I pulled over to the side of the road and thought about what to do. He’s only eight years old, I thought. Should I email the camp director? Should I go back and talk to the counselor?

I thought about how Austin packed his own toiletry bag for camp, and it only had three things in it. But that was enough for him, just as it would have been enough for Shawn.

“He’s fine,” I actually said out loud. I wasn’t going to contact anyone at camp. I was going to let him figure out if he wanted to share that information or not. He’s only eight years old, but this is something he is going to deal with for the rest of his life. He is going to have to figure out whether to share this piece of his story with new people he meets.

I drove the rest of the way with the windows down and the sun setting. I thought about my kids and whether I was making all the right decisions for them. Of course, I’m not…but who is?

What I’m starting to realize about parenting my kids is this: as much as I want to control every experience for them, I cannot. Each of them will have to learn how to navigate this world on their own. I can help them sometimes, but not always.

I haven’t heard anything from camp. I’m going to take that as a good sign.

(Image is an old photo of Shawn with his grandmother. At first glance I thought it was Austin!)

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