Monday, January 24, 2011

Strange Milestones

Yesterday, I took Elder Son -- who has become 'Jake Flinthart' in these notes because of the identity he gleefully assumed at WorldCon in Melbourne last year -- off to a five-day music camp near Ulverstone. It was a long drive: forty-odd-minutes to Launceston, and then more than an hour across the top of the state to the site of the camp.

We had a decent time of it. Stopped in Launceston, got him a wallet so he'd be able to carry some cash for the week. Picked up a bunch of blank business-sized cards, put his name and his email address on them, filled the wallet's pockets. The theory is that he'll be meeting people, and making friends with whom he wants to stay in contact. It's probably an accurate theory; Jake has inherited a certain gregarious streak.

After lunch in Ulverstone, I took him to the camp proper, and spent a few minutes getting him settled in. Natalie had encouraged me to stick around for a while if it looked like it would help him find his feet, but it didn't seem like a good idea. They've bunked him in with five or so other lads the same age, and it took me only a few minutes to work out that they're smart, friendly kids. (Not really surprising. They are, obviously, all strongly involved in music, with all the parental care and attention that implies.) Within a few minutes, they were all talking about Doctor Who - and I knew that staying around longer would hinder Jake's progress, not boost it.

So I turned around and drove home again, stopping briefly at one of the various cherry orchards to pick up a few kilos of ripe Lapins. (Yeah. I'm actually becoming familiar with different cherry varieties. Lapins are big, dark, juicy cherries, very sweet.) A long drive, and only my memories for company.

I absolutely hated the school camps I got thrown into as a kid, and I would never choose to inflict anything similar on my youngsters. Big, drafty dormitories up the back of Lake Tinaroo, on the Atherton Tableland in Far North Queensland. Bunks rejected as unfit for WWII. 'Food' that deserved every lame joke ever made about institutional cuisine...

Worst was the enforced contact with a range of schoolkids I usually avoided like the plague. There was a big, big gulf between me and most of the kids around. I'm sure that if I'd had sophisticated social and emotional skills, I could have dealt with it better. But when you're ten or twelve or so and smart rather than physical, you're just not equipped for the raw primate pack politics of the schoolyard.

It was bad enough five days a week at school, but at least I could go home in between, and I could look forward to weekends. But school camps could last up to two weeks. Nowhere to go to get away. Nobody to talk with. No way to carry enough books...

School camps sucked shit.

Jake's music camp, on the other hand, is full of kids who play stringed instruments. It's within walking distance of a beach. It's got a couple of huge, in-ground trampolines, ropes courses, giant swings, and a bunch of other stuff. He's in with a lot of boys his own age in a small cabin, not sharing a gigantic dormitory with a pack of mouth-breathers of all ages. We tried to phone him last night at the prearranged time, but he was busy, and it sounded like he was having fun.


But his brother missed him. Younger Son - who has been fierce in his occasional demands for a Room Of His Own - was reluctant to sleep with the older brother, off in his bed at the other end of the room. And the place was altogether quieter without him.

So there it is. He's off now, spending his first length of time away from family and home. I'm sure he'll have a great time and everything. But it is only the first, isn't it?

I like my kid. I'm going to miss him.