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Summer Rites of Passage
Summer Rites of Passage

He has been attending Camp Escapades in Torrance, California, for nine summers-- and for the first time he hasnt ripped the ID sticker off his t-shirt and thrown it to the ground. Instead, my son Joseph pleasantly greets the counselor by name and shakes his hand. Then he pats the sticker with a smile. The dawning of compliance is indeed a welcome rite of passage as he nears the age of fourteen. It's the start of Joseph's last season in this wonderfully familiar environment for children with special needs. He'll be too old to participate next year. At present, he's thrilled to be back and that's all he cares about. His beaming face is proof. But as I leave him basking in the joy of initial salutations, I am beset by odd twinges. Certainly not the kind I experienced when he first started camp as a five-year-old. Those were the combination guilt-anxiety flutters that faded once I drove away and realized that I was blessedly free for several hours to do whatever I wanted. At that time, Joseph had more attention and behavior issues that kept him and me - constantly at the edge. He flailed and cried so plaintively when we first parted company, I doubted if we ever should. Camp counselors correctly thought otherwise. Today the twinges are entirely different. They are born of awe, with a tide of nostalgia passing through. I am amazed at Joseph's present developments. He is tall, calm, athletic, handsome, with signs of peach fuzz on his upper lip that must have sprung the moment I noticed his voice had gotten deeper. But this time, as I move towards the silent freedom of an empty car, my steps slow down, and an unexpected achiness washes over me. Nine summers. Nine years. My family and I have profitably used the time on so many Joseph-centered things: school meetings, sports programs, therapies, behavior classes, park dates, beach outings, family vacations, summer camp itself. I should feel proud of all these involvements; yet I realize that much of our activity has been spent on managing and getting through. Focusing on logistics. Rushing here and there. Striving more than thriving. Meanwhile, Joseph's childhood has been moving on. Just like summer camp, its expiration date is near. And Joseph, without making it too obvious, has been steadily growing each moment. Until today I never fully stopped to consider his more nuanced changes as rites of passage too. But they are. Beyond compliance and cordial handshakes, they comprise numerous skills in self-management, household tasks, schoolwork, and communicationall from observing and absorbing the simple content of each interval. Summer is going by quickly. Camp will be wrapping up soon. Learning to savor the simple moments before they add up to increasingly bigger changes is a summer rite of passage for ME. I'm pretty sure Joseph can lead the way.

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