Am I Ready For Sleep Away Camp?
Lately, my son has been telling me, “You are way too overprotective?” “Really?” I said, “Give me an example of how I am overprotective.” He said, “You won’t let me get any T-rated games, you monitor all of my screen time and you won’t let me eat junk food!” I said, “Hmmm…I think most people would say that’s called, being a good Mom. I am helping you to grow up and be healthy.” “No, you are helping to make me boring,” he said. After a long tirade of all the things I was doing wrong, he concluded with, “Mom, you need to let me grow up, sometime!”
I thought to myself, “Nine years, really is that all I get? I have to let him grow up. What does that even mean?” I remembered the thousands of times I heard older parents say, “They grow up fast. You blink and they go off to college. Enjoy this time, because it won’t last.” I always thought it was such a cliché,’ especially being that, it was often said to me in the heat of a tantrum, usually my own.
Now, as a Mom to three; ages 2, 6 and 9, I know from experience, it is more than a cliché’. It is 100% true. Babies grow up fast. Even though, we hold them in our hearts for an eternity, we only get to hold them and protect them in our arms for a brief moment in time.
(Wasn't this just yesterday??)
Up until now, I never thought of myself as an overprotective parent. I have always considered myself more of a free-ranger. But he’s telling me, “I am over-protective.” I wondered, “Oh my God, could I possibly have become a dreaded helicopter parent?”
I had to put my own feelings aside and really listen to what he was telling me. Though, letting him get a bunch of T-rated video games and eating more junk food, is not on my agenda for the parenting role I would like to play, I wondered, “Am I giving him enough responsibilities, freedom and space to grow?”
I started to really think about what he was telling me. He was trying to communicate to me that he has a need for autonomy. He was feeling limited by the number of choices he gets to make, he wants more freedom and independence and he wants to have space to figure things out for himself.
Maybe, I could create more situations that were safe for him to explore so he could feel like I was letting him “grow up.” He had been asking to go to sleep away camp for over two years now. Even though, the thought of it terrified me, my husband said he thought it was a great idea. He said, “I think it would be really good for him. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Let me tell you, there is one thing that you should never ask a highly intuitive, imaginative, psychic and slightly paranoid, Mom and my husband just asked me. I thought, "What's the worst that can happen? Hasn't he ever heard of Hansel and Gretel or The Big Bad Wolf? What if he gets lost in the woods or eaten by a bear?" I went down the "worst that could happen road" for longer than I care to admit and then, I used my mindfulness skills to get back to the high road. I asked myself, “Is this fear or love?” I brought myself back to the realm of reality that I know; thousands of kids go away to sleep away camp every summer and have a wonderful time.
Then, I bravely signed him up for the best camp I could find. He would be spending 5 nights in Mammoth in the Eastern High Sierras where he could experience fishing, swimming, canoeing and most importantly growing up. I spent all summer prepping him. I talked to him about self-care, sunscreen application, putting on Chap Stick and staying hydrated in the high altitude. We went for hikes, talked about eating what he was served and all the other important camp survival skills.
Together we packed up his bag and we went through his list of essentials. He held the bug spray in his hand and said, “How do I work this thing?” I fought back the urge to scream, “Don’t blind yourself!” As I continued to remind him where the sunscreen and Chap Stick were, he rolled his eyes and said, “Mom, stop worrying! I will be fine!”
We packed up the truck for the seven-hour drive to the top of The Mountain. Three hours into the drive, my six year old felt a bit queasy and before we could steer the truck to the side of the road, she threw up all over the back seat of the car. A few minor hiccups later, and we finally, made it to Base Camp.
Day 1 of Sleep Away Camp:
We pulled up to Camp. I looked back at my big guy and said, “O.K. We are here.” We helped him to bring in all of his gear, checked him in and the counselor, non-ceremoniously, looked at me and said, “O.K. Mom, he is all set. You can go now.” Just like that, "I can go, now." I looked over at my son, took a deep breath, choked back my tears and said, “Good bye.”
Day 2 of sleep away camp at 12:00 PM~
Less than 24 hours later, we got a message from his counselor, asking if we could stop by to visit him because he wasn’t feeling so well and he really wanted to go home.
My husband felt very strongly that he didn’t want him to quit. He said, “He needs to learn how to stick things out. If he sticks it out, then he will feel successful. It would be really good for him.” I agreed but, I also, felt like he might not be well enough to continue in the camp.
I thought it was really important to consider what was real and present in the moment rather than stick to some pre-conceived notion that “If you start something, you have to finish it.” There is an exception to every rule and sometimes we have to consider all of the variables. I presented different scenarios, “What if he has the stomach virus that our daughter had. We can’t make him stay if he is throwing up.” I reminded him that this camp was a huge step for our son. He had never been away from us before, and if he’s sick he won’t be able to participate in any of the activities.
We drove to the camp and I found him there, hanging out with the camp cook and her dog. His lips and face were chapped and he was sporting his first ever, sunburn. He ran to me with open arms and gave me an enthusiastic, "Hi, Mom!" He said, “Sleep away camp was not what I expected it to be. Can I go home, now?”
I played the Mom role that was necessary at the time and I said, "Let's talk about that. Your Dad and I really think that it is best if you try to stick it out. You signed up for this, so you should finish it."
We walked around the camp site together and he showed me his barracks. He was the youngest boy at the camp and he had spent the last night in a tent on a wood platform, filled with over ten teen-age boys sleeping on emergency response style, cots. It was a huge leap from his Tempur-Pedic mattress and non-allergen down-alternative blanket that he was used to.
He opened up to me and told me everything that had happened at camp and then, he told me, "By the way, I couldn't find any of my stuff." I said, “Let’s go through your things together, again." And for the first time, in a very long time, he truly listened to every word I said. It had never occurred to him up until that moment that all summer long I was going over every detail because I would not be there to help him. He had never been in a situation before where he could not ask, “Mom, where are my socks?”
As we carefully laid out his stuff on his cot, I felt the heavy reality of what it means to grow up. I said to him, “Sweetie, remember how you have been telling me I have to let you grow up, sometime? Well, this is what it is all about. It means you have to do these things on your own.
He heard me. He really heard me. He said, “I think I will be ok, now.” I said, “I know you will be.” I gave him a huge hug, choked back my tears, again and said, “Bye for now.”
Day 3 of sleep away camp: 8:30 a.m. ~ Second Call From The Counselor
“Your son has been throwing up all morning. We think you need to come pick him up, now.”
We picked him up and settled into the reality that Sleep Away camp was a bust and it just wasn't happening this year!
Camp wasn’t exactly what any of us had hoped for, but it was exactly what we needed.
Sleep Away Camp, was my Momma wake up call! I realized all of the ways that I have been preventing him from "growing up."
Sometimes, growing up is about experiencing our first real sun burn, getting chapped lips, falling down and learning how to stand up on our own and most importantly, learning how to be away from home. So, even though, sleep away camp was not what we expected, it set the groundwork for the next nine years of my Motherhood journey, as I prepare him to be a real "grown up." Today, we are all a little wiser, with many adventures to come and we know the value of remembering where the Chap Stick is. And maybe, just maybe, we will be ready for Sleep Away Camp, NEXT SUMMER.