Lately, whenever I walk into a store or a room, I find myself speaking out loud to remind myself why I’m there. “I’m at Target for toilet paper and socks. I am in the living room because I’m looking for the calendar.” Sometimes I sing a quiet little song about it: “I’m at the store for dryer sheets, yes I am…I’m here for dryer sheets, yes I am..” I am officially the crazy lady on the security camera talking to myself.
But no matter where I go this week, I can’t remember what I’m missing. I have a persistent feeling that I’m forgetting something.
And then suddenly it hits me: it’s my children. I have misplaced all three of my children. (Not really.) In reality, all three are spending a month at sleepaway camp. Once I remember where they are, I experience a combination of extreme gleefulness and sheer sadness. “I’m free!” “No kids to worry about!” “I miss them.”
My older two children have been going to sleepaway camp for years. But this is the first year that my little guy, Aidan, is gone too. The house is eerily quiet, but the noise inside my brain has become very loud: “What are you going to do with all of this free time? It better be something productive. Should I write another novel or start another non-profit foundation? Maybe I should spend some time trying to figure out exactly how I feel about Brexit.
About a week ago, I got a call from camp that started as follows: “Hi, Mrs. Primack, it’s Sharon from camp everything is fine.” (Grammar police: please note that I excluded the comma on purpose. A call from camp always starts with one long “nothing is wrong” run-on sentence.)
“Aidan’s counselors noticed that he wrote you a sad letter letter and you will be getting it soon. We just wanted you to know not to panic when you receive it. The staff had a long talk with him today.”
“We asked him to give camp a report card, and to grade it like he was the teacher. His answers: when he’s busy and enjoying camp activities, he gives it a “B.” When it’s bedtime and it’s quiet, it’s a “D.” So, the staff here has concluded that in Aidan’s mind, camp gets a “C” average and that’s a pretty good overall grade.
Frankly, I was relieved. I had previously anticipated many calls I would be receiving this summer about Aidan: that he got into an argument with another camper about the current political climate, that he told a staff member exactly what he thought of the lame camping trip, or that he was currently educating his bunkmates on the storyline and musical lyrics of “Spring Awakening.”
Later that day, as I researched whether or not it was possible for me to become a certified Zumba instructor in two weeks, I thought about Aidan’s analysis of camp. Just like the camp staff, I decided that it was pretty normal for an 8 year-old kid to feel happy when he’s busy during the day, and to feel sad and lonely in the still of the night.
But what about us adults? What if someone were to ask all of us how we grade our daily lives? Many people I know would come up with a similar answer to Aidan: an “A” or “B” when busy and distracted during the day, and a “D” or “E” at night, when lying still in bed. Life as a whole, for many people, gets a “C” average. And that’s a problem.
Most of us spend our lives constantly running towards an invisible finish line. That’s just how life is in 2016. But why do we do this? Is it because that’s what society demands of us in this competitive and 24-hour cyber-obsessed world? Or do we do this to ourselves on purpose, to avoid thinking about the things that really trouble us when we stop competing and turn off the computer?
Doctors are writing more prescriptions for sleeping medications today than at any other time in history. No one can sleep anymore. We are all way too restless.
I have to believe that the ultimate goal in life is to achieve a feeling of daytime and nighttime equality. We should all strive to feel the same joy during the silence of the night that we do during our busy days. We should all live a life that has an “A” average.
Aidan may not feel this yet because he’s not old enough to choose how to live his days and nights. He doesn’t yet have the autonomy or power to make those choices.
But we do. All of us grownups need to stop and think. What thoughts are we trying so desperately to chase away from our minds that we have to continually create chaos and frenzied activity during the day? What are our deepest, darkest fears that we put off thinking about until night? Isn’t it time to start dealing with those realities and fixing those problems while we can: in the light of the day?
Once we do that, surely we can enjoy and relax our precious nights at home with our families.
So, while I will enjoy my time away from the children while simultaneously feeling bad about doing so, I will try to take my own advice. I will stop running around like a maniac taking on way too much during the day so that I can pause and figure out what it is that I’m really running from.
If I find the answer, is it possible that I could then achieve such peace within myself that I won’t need any medications to help me relax and fall asleep at night?
If I can succeed at doing that, then as my children run off the bus from camp back into my arms, I will feel a sense of accomplishment. I will know that these four weeks were not wasted at all.
I did something very, very important with my time.