Our season of sleepaway camps began today as I delivered Snowman (aka #2 Son) to Jazz Camp. I love driving away from City By the Sea on these summer errands, up into the less-settled lands of Maine. The lakes and the hills opening to the more distant mountains mark the wide open space of summer, the chance to be free from the routines of school-year life, to play and experiment and simply to be. The back of the car holds duffel bag and clarinet, new reeds and cork grease, lots of clean socks and the inevitable Frisbee.
The camper describes his strategy for the afternoon audition. Each student will be placed in a small ensemble based on ability. “I’m just going to play the piece the way it’s written.” During the school year his training is classical. The trip to Jazz Camp is a musical excursion as well as a trip away from home. “I’m here to learn to improvise. I’ll be happy wherever they place me.”
In the car, we listen to “Evita,” talking about the music as we drive. “That’s a third over a minor third,” he says (or something like that) about the intervals when the crowd sings her name at the beginning of Act Two, an ominous discordant theme. He is the first member of the family to have a keener grasp of music theory than I, the first one to really understand what I mean when I talk about how a musical theme expresses something about a character and then to be able to define the underlying theory. He is a musician. We are engrossed in our discussion, playing certain sections back, marveling at Mandy Patinkin and Patti Lupone, comparing the latter’s grasping Evita to the film version’s somewhat more sympathetic take on Eva Peron.
And then as we turn off Route 27 and toward the campus, his face changes. “We’re there!” Such happiness!! Evita is forgotten, the CD paused awkwardly.
He first went to Jazz Camp two years ago, a chubby 13 year old not quite as tall as I was being packed off to a dorm room on a college campus in an unfamiliar town, thoroughly relieved to learn he was rooming with a friend from home. I remember feeling it was very hard to leave him, harder than dropping him off at church camp had been, maybe because a dorm seemed so grown up and far away and unprotected.
His dad delivered him last year; the contrast of two years feels sharp to me. In line for registration, many old friends say “hi” to him. I don’t for a moment worry that he will miss home as he looks down at me from his height advantage of 6 or 7 inches. We get his things unpacked in no time, in the same corner room he shared with his friend from home last year. This is a happy and familiar place to them now, nothing strange about it. He is as happy to be there as any of us are to find ourselves among familiar people who share our love for whatever it is we love.
In the lobby of the dorm he gives me a hug, already wearing his new Jazz Camp t-shirt. I must look a little wistful, because he hugs me again.
I get back into the car and start the CD again. It seems odd that it should pick up exactly where we left off. My life resumes while my son explores new territory from the safe base of camp. Can I make this week as expansive for myself as I know it will be for him? Drawing near to City By the Sea, seeing the sparking water and the summer sky, it feels to me just such a wide open space.