Campfire, canoeing…and commitment


purple tennis shoes

As many of you know, I sent Kate to camp…or rather allowed her to go after two years of relentless begging, pleading, and slipping notes to me under the bathroom door.  I viewed camp not as a place for nurturing and fostering friendships and a sense of independence, but rather, a mosquito infested bedlam of ten year olds who eat junk food, swim without sunscreen, and don’t bathe because we just aren’t there to tell them to do so.  Nor did the thought of surrendering my only child  to the care of some kid in the throws of teenage angst appeal to me.

After much research, prayer, asking my husband a gazillion times for his opinion, and a few glasses of wine, I relented.  But she was going to go prepared.

I set out a couple of weeks before camp to procure the essential “camp gear.”  I got a sleeping bag, an extra pair of tennis shoes, an adorable swim suit, herbal bug repellent, 80 SPF sunscreen, cute PJs, tons of shorts and t shirts, little travel size toiletries(all sorts…she didn’t use most of this stuff at home, but this had no bearing on my purchasing frenzy), a pillow, a flashlight, sheets, throws, rain jacket, a laundry bag, paper, envelopes, stamps, pens, extra socks and wine (for me).  Two hours and ten grand later, my kid was ready for camp…or perhaps a year away from home in the Yukon.

Now, I’ve never been one of those moms who needs a “break” from my kid with camp being a logical and guilt free way of acquiring alone time to get reacquainted with my spouse or my sanity. I approached the camp idea with dread–this was a week without my kid I would never get back–her independence aside, I was selfish and didn’t want to be separated for a week.

As camp day grew closer, all that began to change.  I had a list spanning five note book pages of stuff I was going to accomplish during her retreat.  The thought of setting a cup of coffee down without fear of having it knocked over by a rambunctious kiddo was, no doubt, enticing.

As we drove through the Gasper River campgrounds, Brian and I were becharmed by the beauty of the place.  Trees, grass, hills, and a real, honest to God river(the cleanest one around, I was told) absolutely took my breath away.  What a far cry from our concrete cul de sac! The mere thought of Kate sitting around a campfire singing Kumbaya sent my heart soaring.  In the car, just before disembarking, Kate said, in a low and gravelly voice filled with abject fear (but what I mistook for the need for parental reassurance), “I’m kinda scared to go.”  “I know, honey, this is new to you, but give it a chance…all your friends are at the check in waitin’ for ya…it’ll be fun…look, there’s the pool!(as if she were some easily distracted golden retriever).  Think of all the late nights, singing, swimming…this is your vacation You’ll love it!”  Even I thought I was laying it on a little thick.

The week sans child was passing slowly…I missed her.  But, hey, I’m all about life lessons and I knew this was a serious step towards independence.  I had glorious visions of pick up day whereby I’d retrieve a suntanned, sweaty, exuberant, ten year old who, well, would probably smell…like a ten year old who’d been at camp for a week. I had a tough, independence craving kid who could spend a week away from home and return a wiser, stronger sixth grader.

Suddenly in the midst of my camp Hiawatha fantasies, a needle screeches across vinyl and I have a serious reality check.  I get The Phone Call.  I answer the phone and “Ben” identifies himself as one of the Gasper River counselors, and upon hearing my dread soaked salutation, responds with, “Kate is fine…she’s had a great week…but…she’s crying and a bit homesick…can you talk to her?” Of course.  Kate, sobbing and incoherent, wants me to come get her.  I establish that she is not being hurt, ostracized, bullied, or otherwise mistreated. I tried to joke with her, to no avail. Speaking from experience, once the ugly cry is unleashed, it’s hard to reign it in.  I couldn’t even elicit a giggle.  Finally, I pulled the mean mom card.  “You have to stay. You made a commitment and you have to see it through,” I calmly explain.  She’s taken aback.  She didn’t expect this. She had a day and half left of camp and she never had to do it again, but I wasn’t about to let her just quit. After a lengthy conversation, I hung up, my face in my hands, convinced my kid would be scarred for life by the mom who wouldn’t drop everything and come get her.

Enter uninvited life lesson.  Keep your commitments.  Trust that you can see it through and gain insight and strength just from toughing it out. It’s easy to quit midstream, cut your losses and just go to the house.  How many times have we given up on a job, a spouse, a project, God, a wayward kid, or a dream because either it was too hard, uncomfortable, or we just didn’t see the desired results soon enough?  I’m absolutely guilty.  I know Kate will break commitments to herself and to others on her life’s journey.  If she’s anything like her hot-headed, ill tempered mother, she may even walk off a job…or two.  But it is my parental responsibility to lay the groundwork for her, and sometimes it’s hard.  I wasn’t sure I had done the right thing.

Ben called a few hours later and told me Kate was having a great time.  They tend to dote a bit more on the ones who get homesick and for that I was grateful.  He thanked me for trusting she was in good hands. Hey, I know I won’t always be around.  I like to think I will, in many ways, always be her “center.” But as she grows older, that circle will widen and she’ll have to depend on herself and allow the kindness of others to help her along the way.

Camp week ended and I felt I was moving in slow motion as the parents assembled to be reunited with our kids. I met Ben before the kids came in.  He was a large bear of a man, standing over six feet tall.  I felt small (yeah, me!) as his large hand engulfed and shook mine.  After a brief conversation, I felt a bond had been forged between parent and counselor. Brian and I waited in the dining hall for the kids to come in and like an Emperor penguin that can recognize its mate by the sound of its voice in a throng of identical penguins, I identified my own offspring in a sea of blonde, sunkissed, four footers.  She was smiling( a good sign), and she smelled like sweat and sunscreen.  I drank it in as I held her tight, both of us having seen through a decision.

She mentioned on the way home that she wanted to come back next year. Fabulous.

©Mary Flanagan Taylor June 6, 2010

gasper river

Gasper River


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