A wise man once told me:
Parenting involves a painful series of “releasing” our children, for their good and ours. It begins for the mother at childbirth, and the pattern continues into adulthood.
I had one of those “releasings” recently, when I sent my almost nine-year old daughter to sleep away church camp for the first time. This was new territory for both of us. My daughters don’t do sleepovers, and I can think of only two occasions they’ve slept away from their parents. We homeschool, so we’re accustomed to spending a lot of time together.
I was pleased she’d initiated interest in camp. I felt confident she’d be in a safe, loving environment. I believe in my heart this process of “releasing” is necessary and good for both of us.
Still. No one at camp would love that baby like I do. It was a big deal in this mama’s heart.
When I was my daughter’s age, I went to camp too. I had fun, but I also remember home feeling far away. There was disorientation, items forgotten, and annoyance at fellow campers. Would my daughter be safe? Nobody likes to think about it, but abuse and molestation are possible when children are vulnerable. Would she hit it off with kids in her group? Would she lose every dad-gum item in her suitcase? I’m a mom. I worry. I can’t help it.
Here’s how I approached my concerns in the weeks prior to camp:
My husband and I have talked with our daughter in stages from the time she was young about safety—including boundaries and her body. We want this message to be clear: Your body is yours. It’s not acceptable for anyone to touch you without your permission in ways that make you feel uncomfortable. You have the right to set boundaries. If anyone hurts you or you feel unsafe, remember you have people who love you. Please talk to your parents or another trusted adult.
When we spend a whole bunch of time with others, it can be awesome; it can also be overwhelming, especially for introverts. If the hours start to feel long, try to keep little things little. Camp will last four days. At the end, you’ll return to all things familiar. Look for the positive and don’t expect it to be all roses because nothing is perfect, not even camp. It’ll be easier, I told her, if you keep perspective.
She tolerated my little pep talk, and I prayed some of it would stick.
I involved her heavily in this. I did not want her to arrive and grumble where did my mom put X, Y, Z? We went over the list of required items and created a pile on her bedroom floor. From that, she selected outfits (including socks and underwear) which she bagged individually in gallon ziplocks. This made daily dressing easy peasy and provided a nice way to 1) contain sweaty clothes at the end of the day and 2) prevent her suitcase from erupting like a volcano. She packed all the items on the list herself. I also insisted she rehearse zipping/unzipping the suitcase, lifting the handle, and rolling it with the sleeping bag on top, since she’d be responsible for lugging her stuff from the bus to her dorm.
(Dang. I’m a drill sergeant!)
Keep Track of Your Stuff
My girl is getting better at this, but it’s not one of her strengths. Rather than nag her, I decided to go over the daily camp schedule together, so she could get a sense of just how often she’d be moving from one place to another. From breakfast to small group to large group to free time to group competition to dinner to late night, etc. At each transition, she’d need to ask herself “Do I have my stuff? What do I need to gather before I move on to the next place?”
It’s nobody’s job to keep track of your stuff, child! Ay, yi, yi.
It’s going to be 105 degrees the week you are at camp, and you’re going to be walking 10x more than you normally do. For the love of all things holy, please drink water. Otherwise, you might die.
The Bottom Line
The morning she left, I gave her one more talking-to.
I’ve asked you to remember a lot while you’re away at camp. Do your best to manage your stuff and keep perspective. But, hear me: I do not expect perfection from you. If you lose something, I’m not gonna kill you—I promise. If you struggle at camp, I’m still gonna love you. You simply can’t do anything to take that away. You’re going to be fine—better than fine. Mom and Dad are proud of you for being open to new experiences. I think you’re in for a lot of fun.
Four days later, my girl stepped off the bus with a big smile and a longer-than-usual hug for me. Her big brown eyes were bright, and there were vestiges of green face paint on her flushed cheeks. She was talking a mile a minute about good memories made.
She’d lost her water bottle, but managed to buy another. No big deal.
She did it! We did it. The first of who knows how many painful “releasings” which we both survived—and even thrived.
I am thankful.