Last week we picked up our kids from four weeks of uninterrupted, overnight summer camp. Two questions I hear repeatedly regarding our personal decision to expose our children to this extraordinary experience:
"How can you possibly send your kids away for so long? Won't you miss them?"
So let's first clear the air on the latter question. Of course I miss them. Madly.
Now onto the former which requires a bit more commentary.
Many parents feel melancholy about their children growing older and reaching significant life milestones. Starting kindergarten, losing a first tooth, learning the truth about Santa, driving a car, leaving for college. Everyone's experience in the role of parent is different, and as such, we all react in our own way to the "letting go" of our babies. Sometimes I wonder why I view these achievements so differently from most. I am rarely despondent due to the advancement of my kids. I take pleasure in their growth, am fascinated in their development and look forward to what's next. Even if - no, especially if - it means they grow in independence and rely on me less. That means that I'm excelling in my job as parent, and that is more rewarding than having someone dependent upon me.
Because of their experiences at camp, they know how to compensate when Mom and Dad are not there to immediately pick them up and inject them with a dosage of confidence. They've learned to dig within themselves to handle less than desirable situations when away from home, such as contracting an illness, dealing with irksome peers, or patiently following instructions that differ from those we employ in our household. At camp, they are exposed to different cultures, religions, personalities and attitudes toward life, and the ever important life lesson of tolerance is reinforced. They also compete fairly with their peers, learning integrity and sportsmanship while forming life-long friendships.
Some may argue that teaching these characteristics is our responsibility as parents. And I agree. But as a parent, I'll take all the assistance I can get, and I welcome the supplemental support from their camp families. Because that's exactly what they are - their extended families away from home.
There has never been any doubt about how my kids feel about their camp adventures. This is one of my all-time favorite pictures - when a nine-year-old Kahley opened a boring "clothes" present at Christmastime, only to find a "welcome to summer camp" packet inside, accompanied by a piercing scream...
Upon returning home every summer, these two share a different language. Camp-speak, is what I call it. They don't attend the same camps, so they have a lot of catching up to do. They tell stories and listen patiently to one another. They sing their camp songs to each other, without judgment or criticism, but with a common understanding and appreciation of what these songs represented during their "Tan and White" or "Green and White" competitions. They share personal achievements, whether it's mastering a new sport, accomplishing a personal goal or leading a particular activity for the younger campers. I listen from the other room, smiling and quietly celebrating in their renewed respect and deepened admiration for each other.
If either of them ever returned from camp with less than wild enthusiasm, we would not push it. But they both want to go back, year after year. They applaud the older campers who celebrate their 5, 10 and 15 year anniversaries and look forward to celebrating their own camp milestones someday, not to mention the year they turn from camper into counselor and pay their tremendous experiences forward.
We talk about college a lot in our house. My kids do not fear moving away from home. Even at their young ages, they look forward to it with excitement, confidence and their own personal desire and expectation to succeed.
But for now, we celebrate a new wakeboarder in the family...