I was feeling satisfied at having completed a series of quotidian duties when I was hit with a dose of pure parental dread: My youngest son's camp had called while I was out. Something had happened, but they wouldn't say what. My brother, who had answered the phone, reported that the caller said he could only speak with a parent of the child in question. This is what you fear—the call out of nowhere to inform you of ... What? A head cracked open? A broken arm? Something worse?
I called the camp and identified myself. A teenage voice said he would put his boss on the line. It was getting weirder. After again establishing that I was indeed the father of the anxiety-inducing boy, I figured the boss would tell me what the hell was going on. He couldn't seem to put the words together.
"OK, first of all—just tell me he's OK!" I blurted.
"Oh. Sorry," he answered. "He's fine. It's not like he's been hurt or he's in any trouble or anything. Sorry about that. It was just ... he was in a situation where ..."
"Well, a boy ... another kid in his group ... there was a situation ..."
Oh, a fight, I thought. He got a bloody lip or something.
"... a boy in his group ... kissed him."
"On the chin."
"Oh, jeez," I sighed. "That's it?"
"Yes, sir. That's it. Just the once. And only ... as I say, on the chin."
"So they're not going steady or anything?"
"No, sir. We just wanted to inform you and didn't want him to recollect it for you without us telling you what happened."
"I understand," I found myself saying. Clearly, when I ask my son how camp was today, I don't expect to be hit with, "Well, Dad, I kissed a boy ... or well, he kissed me. On the chin."
I later found out that my wife had spoken with the camp before I did. They'd explained that they go through this formality because apparently there are some dads out there who would be upset and even raise a big stink about such a thing. I suppose the heart attack I almost had imagining that my sweet, Sendak-faced son had been injured at camp results at least partially from the discomfort we still feel as a society when boys kiss boys, or girls kiss girls. The camp still has to cover its ass, cynical as it may sound. It's laughable that an impulsive peck on the chin between 6-year-olds has become a loaded act, a sensitive "situation" that has to be handled with high levels of discretion. Alert the press: Peace has broken out.
It was Thursday, Grandma day, so he arrived home at dinnertime. I opened the door and he bounded in, slipped off his sandals and headed for that damn Nintendo. "How was camp today, buddy?" I called after him.
"Great!" he answered as he scampered past.
I wondered what he meant by that.