Things I Learned While My Kid Was at Camp

As I mentioned on Monday, Caroline is at Girl Scout camp this week. The weirdest thing for me is not even being able to talk to her. Camp is one of the last experiences in which parents and children are in complete radio silence from one another. Robert and I went overseas several years ago, and were on an island inhabited by 200 people, and still we talked regularly to the girls. (James was in utero.) Don't get me wrong, I think it's great and necessary, just weird. Some other random thoughts I've had this week as I think about her often, miss her very much, but feel confident that it will be the experience she needs to have.

Notice I didn't say I was confident she would have a good time. I'm not confident of that. This is her first camp experience, so we're in uncharted territory. The odds are in her favor, though. And that's the calculation we made when we (and she) decided she was ready for a week of camp: she loves Girl Scout activities, she has been camping a few times and likes it, she's been away from us overnight many times, and it's a water- and swimming-themed camp, which is her thing.

Not to mention that the Girl Scouts have been at this for almost a hundred years.

But it's true. She may have a not-great time... and it will still have been an important experience for her. She will have learned that you can have a not-great time and it will not kill you. That bad times come to an end and she can survive them. And as long as the week might have seemed, she will know that her parents will be there at 8:15 on Saturday morning to fetch her and to hear all about it.

I am certainly not rooting for a not-great time, but aren't those fantastic lessons to learn? That you can survive a nasty girl in your cabin, or chigger bites, or food that's not your favorite, or homesickness, or the bad thunderstorm we had on Monday?

I say this because not everyone I've talked to this week has been supportive. "A WHOLE WEEK!?!?" one mother shrieked when I told her. Geez, you'd think we were sending her to Glass-Chewing and Chainsaw-Juggling Camp. Another was relieved to hear that the camp was so close by should something go wrong. Then there was the mom who told me about the friend-of-a-friend whose kid had to be picked up because she wouldn't eat. Or the kid whose parents had to pick her up because she cried constantly with homesickness. And look, it does have to be an individual decision with your own kids' personality in mind. But really? Those aren't horror stories. Those are stories of taking a risk and realizing it wasn't the right time or the right fit. Those are learning experiences. You can make all the right calculations and things still go wrong. I say it's better to take a chance.

Remember this Atlantic article about parents who smooth over their kids' childhoods to the point that they don't know how to deal with setback and failure as adults? (I talk about it here.) I don't want to do that. "Will they be homesick, or could something go wrong" seems to be some people's lines in the sand. Well... yes they will be homesick. And yes, something is likely to go wrong. And unless you think the homesickness or the something-wrong is going to be severe and debilitating, those aren't reasons not to do it.

But here's the other thing I realized about moms who shriek and tell horror stories:

There is such pressure around here to be the perfect parent. Keeping up with the Joneses in my leafy suburb of NoVA has nothing to do with cars and TVs; it's all about giving your kids every opportunity to succeed, excel, be enriched, etc. So at first I heard these comments and thought, "They think I'm irresponsible, making her grow up too fast. They're judging me."

And they might be.

But it's just as likely that they're judging themselves---that they feel inadequate as a parent because their kid's not ready and "should" be, or because the parents can't bear the thought of their child being away from them, or they can't afford to send their kid to camp and they feel he or she will miss out. Realizing this allows me to hear their feedback, consider what part of it is useful, and not take on what's not.

Yes, lots of learning and growth for the mama... but I'm still running to the mailbox every day wondering if there'll be a letter from her.

Image: Caroline's home this week. It's cool how close the shelters are to one another. I remember when I went to GS camp, I was in a tent that was back in the woods such that you couldn't even see the other tents! Which was a little creepy, though I still liked camp. And get off my lawn.