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Kate Ryan Williams Headshot

Jumping in With Both Feet

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Tomorrow, our family embarks on a new journey. This is our first time. So it's exciting. And scary. And preparing for it is leaving me an emotional wreck.

The Redhead is 14 and this weekend, we will be dropping him off for his first-ever official summer camp. This camp was his birthday present, given to him back in March. It's seven days of Marine Engineering at Texas A&M University at Galveston's Sea Camp and he is so excited. They'll look at things like converting electricity from sea waves, marine propulsion and thermodynamics. This is his passion, what he has already declared will be his major in college. He has been looking forward to it for months.

But now we're right up on it and we drive tomorrow and drop him off the day after that and I'm a wee bit anxious. I've reviewed the official list of what to pack a dozen times. The Redhead glanced at it once. I've been washing clothes for days, marking all of his belongings with a Sharpie. He pulled out a small bag with everything he thought he needed and this concerned me. How in the world could he possibly think that is all he needs? I went to Target to get trial-size toiletries for him. I might have gone overboard. I think I amused The Redhead when I returned from the store with bottles and wipes and powders and a teeny tiny first aid kit. Guess what item he was most impressed with? Yep. The miniature first aid kit. What 14-year-old wouldn't be impressed with that?

Aquaman, however, was not impressed. "He doesn't bathe at home! You think he's going to pay attention to personal hygiene when he's at camp?"

I dismissed this. Aquaman simply does not understand. The Redhead will probably need tissues and mouthwash and Advil ("You're trusting him with that?" Aquaman added.) He will probably need the Gold Bond medicated powder if he gets chafed from being in his swimsuit all day. (The Redhead was uber embarrassed when I brought this up.) And he'll probably need the two washcloths and towels and extra swimsuit and sneakers I'm putting in his bag. What? Don't judge.

This may seem like overkill. I'll admit it. But that's only if you don't know The Redhead. In addition to these everyday items that any parent might pack for their child heading off to camp, we have to pack lifesaving medications. Two EpiPens. A rescue inhaler. Benadryl. A maintenance inhaler.

I don't seem so overboard now, do I? Not quite so much of a Nervous Nellie, right?

These are the big guns, people. This is what keeps me up at night. The Redhead has life-threatening food allergies and asthma. So we don't just send him off to camp with toothbrush and toothpaste. (Neither of which I think he's used once all summer, anyway. There. I said it.) That's why he's 14 and going off to a camp at a college for the first time when most other kids have been going to camp for years.

The Redhead is allergic to all kinds of food. It is easier for me to tell you what he's not allergic to than to list what he is allergic to. The life-threatening ones are nuts and fish. That's why we carry the EpiPen.

Notice I said "we" carry. Only now, he will be solely responsible for carrying it. In fact, he'll have to carry All Of It. All The Time.

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And he'll have to navigate the college cafeteria every day. He'll have to be super careful about everything that he puts in his mouth, everything that is prepared by someone else and might have something in it he is allergic to. He'll have to be absolutely certain that the nugget he thinks is chicken is in fact, chicken. Not fish. He's made that mistake before. (Why did you have to bring that up?) He'll even have to be careful of those eating around him, especially if they're chowing down on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

While he's out in a marsh kayaking or in a science lab building an underwater robot, he'll have to make sure his fanny pack with his life-saving medications is with him. It's a lot to ask of a 14-year-old that doesn't remember to put on deodorant.

So it's a lot to ask of a mom to pack him off and hope for the best. To let him grow up a bit and be around other kids who share his interests and have faith (and cross my fingers) that everything will be alright. He will remember to take his medicine at night, he will be ever vigilant about what he eats, and he will keep that fanny pack full of medications to save his life with him wherever he goes.

The Redhead will be at Sea Camp and his brothers will be at their grandparents, about 45 minutes away. Aquaman and I (Alone! Just the two of us!) will be an 8-hour-drive away, in a different state altogether, to attend another gathering of marine-minded folks at the National Marine Educators Association conference in Mobile, Alabama. This is what Aquaman and his family do in the summer. We do water-y things. The Redhead (aka Aqualad) will be at a camp doing the same kind of stuff we will be doing with a bunch of adults on the Alabama coast. Thing 1 and Thing 2 will also be on the Texas coast with their grandparents, fishing and out on a boat much of the time.

The grandparents will be the closest ones to respond to any emergency. And while I know they are perfectly capable and love their grandchildren, it makes my heart hurt just a little bit. Because I sometimes still picture The Redhead like the baby he was when we figured out his severe food allergies.

And that means I'm leaving my baby. In the care of strangers. And I'll be far away. And bad things could happen.

And this is what it is to be a parent. It is my stomach churning out of fear and excitement, at the same time. It is me thrilled for a week alone with my husband and scared for my child's first week solo. It is wanting to hide and wanting to venture out. Wanting to protect and shield and knowing that I have to let them go.

Here's to jumping in with both feet. In the deep end.

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