(Our Family in Tanzania)
I would like to share a story about our first experience sending our own children to camp 13 years ago. Like many of you, Steve Sir and I would pore through the photos to catch a glimpse of their camp experiences. (A quick note of explanation, Steve Sir and I made a point to avoid interacting with our children while they are at camp).
As I looked through the photos that first summer, a small revelation hit me. It was a revelation that hurt my feelings a tad bit at first, but then pleased me deeply. Here it is:
My kids needed me slightly less than I thought AND
I needed them slightly more.
For years, camp parents had said things like this to us, but that summer we saw it. I had begun to believe that MY kids needed MY help – maybe not 24 hours a day, but certainly when they skinned their knee or encountered challenges. Just to disprove this belief, both of our campers went to the infirmary in their first week that summer (one was slightly ill and the other caught a football with his nose). Let me repeat, they went to the infirmary without even a suggestion of going home or searching out Mom and Dad for comfort. We only found out about their visits later (and not from them).
Once I got past the slight twinge of realization that they could indeed function without me more than I would have thought, I found this wonderfully encouraging. Someday, they will need to leave the nest for good. In fact, three will be freshman in college next year and the fourth will be going away in 3 years. So we have seen the process of them migrating from dependence to self-sufficiency. They are not 100% there, but we can see the finish line.
For the most part, camp is hardest on the moms. I sometimes envision mothering as a cord connecting mother and child. In utero, a baby’s very survival is dependent on this cord. At birth, the physical cord is replaced by an emotional cord that is equally important for a child’s development. Our responsibility as parents is to let out that string a little at a time as the children are ready, not so soon that they would be directionless in its slack; not so slow that the child would be horizontal with the effort of pulling away. That summer, I felt a mighty tug on that string as my children strove to take on new challenges and develop into independent individuals. I cherish the connection with my children and find the tug oddly reassuring as it reminds me that connection is still there. But in my heart I know it is time to once again to let out that string and give them some more room to grow. OK, lets be honest. The string is all but gone for the oldest three and I am endeavoring to re-weave it with our very independent high-schooler.
Now we oversee a group on the edge of adulthood. In addition to attending Camp Champions, they attended camps out of state (Wiley a 7-week camp in New Hampshire, Liam a 4-week camp in Minnesota and the girls a 5-week camp in North Carolina). The three oldest have traveled alone in Europe, with Terrill even living in Spain for 3 months. We now have one at Davidson (Steve Sir's alma mater) and two at Texas (Plan II and Business Honors). I know that many things helped their development, but I know that camp was a huge part as it helped nurture their resilience and independence. We are one year from the empty nest. It is odd to think we are at the end of our parenting journey. [Note: of course, we will always be "their parents", but the role of protecting and preparing them is winding down quickly.]
Last year, the University of Texas sent a pre-orientation packet to Liam and Terrill. Upon opening it, they found a "Parent Handbook" that was designed for us. "What is the world is that for?" Liam asked. "You two have already been to college. This is my adventure." We were pretty happy with that response, even if it made us a tad sad.
When the boys were 4 years ago, we taught them to ride bikes. I ran by Liam as he finally found his balance. "Let go mommy - I don't need you anymore." When he said those words, I froze and felt a brief sadness. I still wanted to be needed. Now, I know I am OK knowing I am loved, but not needed. I am happy to let them have their collegiate experiences with Steve Sir and me simply serving as admirers.
A parent cannot ask for more than that!