Today I am just a camp parent. Today I woke up early and woke my son up too. We hurried along through our morning routine doing the usual things except those usual things were punctuated by unusual conversation. “Did you remember your toiletry kit?” “Is that in your trunk or your backpack?” “You’re positive you have enough shirts?”
Today I am dropping my son off at camp. Which on the surface does not seem unusual. This is his 10th year at Camp Timberlake for boys in Marion North Carolina. This year he will receive a Timberlake belt and his name will be engraved on an oar that will be mounted on the wall in The Tuck (which is the dining hall for those outside the camp lingo). I have, in fact, dropped my son off at camp many times before. I’ve dropped his older brother off and his older sister and younger sister too (at Camp Merri-Mac for girls in Black Mountain North Carolina, the sister camp to Timberlake). We are a camp family, and camp is a regular and important part of the rhythm of our family life, as expected as Christmas morning and as regular as brushing our teeth.
What, then, makes this so different?
I am a regular part of camp, too. For more than a decade I have worked at Camps Merri-Mac and Timberlake. I began as a camp nurse when my oldest two started attending camp, and a couple of years later became the Infirmary Supervisor for both the camps. This means that I not only work as a nurse for “my” session (3A as it happens) but through the year and the summer I update and maintain the Policies and Procedures for he infirmaries, maintain standing orders and supplies, ensure compliance with ACA and Buncombe county camp standards and train staff throughout the summer. In some way, shape or form I am always at camp. I might be physically present or I might be making calls and sending emails and texts to answer questions and troubleshoot issues that arise. I know the people – the owners, the Directors, the year-round staff and the summer staff. I’m intimately acquainted with the running of the camp.
Some might say that this gives me an advantage. “It must be easy to have your kids at camp because you are here/there.” is a phrase I’ve heard countless times. There is not a clear assent or refusal to that statement. On one hand yes, it is a bit easier. I don’t drive off the property and count on letters home (a pipe dream if ever there was one from a 9-year-old boy) and photographs on a website to keep me connected to my children. But I have also had to draw clear and unalterable lines in the sand for my children. When they are at camp and I am working I am not their mother. They do not know me and they do not come and see me. I am working so that they can be AT CAMP. To be at camp is to be fully present, and if they miss home they need to talk to their counselor and work it out. That is a hard line to draw. I have shed many a tear after I have “kicked them back into play” when they have tried to blur the line. It was more than difficult. Ignoring that part of my mothering soul telling me to make it easy for my children is never, ever easy or comfortable. But my children have gained confidence and abilities far beyond what Jon and I could have ever taught them ourselves. Our nearly grown and getting grown children will tell you they have grit and determination and maturity because of camp. I will forever be grateful.
Today, however, is different. Yes, I still supervise the infirmary. Yes. I will still work “my” session. But today Josh is a CIT- a counselor in training. That means last summer he was king of the hill of campers and this summer he will spend 4 weeks learning to serve others. Part of that learning is a week-long hiking trip in the High Country of North Carolina. Away from civilization. Sleeping under the stars. Cooking over a campfire and hiking for miles and miles each day in the wilderness. He will be with other CITs and guides who do this for a living. There will be a risk, but calculated risk, the kind that kids need to grow and flourish.
It is also the kind of risk that parents need so that we can let go. Today I will drop Josh off and drive away. I will not be on camp, and even if I am in contact with camp, Josh will be somewhere “out there” in the mountains. I will entrust his care and well being to another. A few young men who I will have to trust to make good decisions and help my son do the same.
If Josh has forgotten something, he’ll have to improvise. If he is uncomfortable he will have to deal with it. If he is homesick or lonely or even afraid, he will have to dig deep.
So will I.
Today I am just a camp parent. I am like every parent that will drop their child off at camp sometime this summer. We have to drive off the property and trust those at camp to make good decisions and help our children do the same. We have to trust that our children have what it takes to improvise, to deal with things and to dig deep. We will have to swallow hard and smile and tell them to have a great time – knowing that our eyes will get misty in the car.
I am a camp parent who knows camp inside and out. What I know for sure and for certain is this – camp is the best thing you can do for your child. Dig deep Mom and Dad. You can do this.