The Mom Stop: Coping with first time at camp
It took several days to pack my 7-year-old daughter’s suitcase. We loaded the suitcase up with towels, bedding, flip-flops, bug spray, sunscreen, a portable fan and a flashlight. And since, this was her first time at summer camp, her first time away from home on her own, we also packed pre-addressed and stamped envelopes and a miniature photo album with family snapshots in case she got homesick.
It was only a three-night “mini” camp, but I knew I wanted her to experience the same thing that I loved as a kid. As a child, I went to camp for a week each summer — a time filled with silly songs, new friends, swimming, snacks at the canteen and hiking. To me, it meant bug bites, wearing “warm fuzzy” name-tag necklaces, spending time in the craft hut and Bible study high atop boulders tucked into the woods. For a week each summer, I discovered a little independence and — as a born introvert — I was forced to come out of my shell a little, to try new things. As a teenager, I became a camp counselor, working with elementary age kids to help them discover an experience I loved so much.
It was something I knew early on that I wanted to share with my kids. Weeks in advance, I started “talking up” camp to my daughter, telling her about all the fun she would have, the exciting things she would do: Horseback riding and rock climbing, swimming and crafts.
For her, I knew it would be easier. She didn’t know another soul going to camp, but she didn’t seem to mind. She’s a natural go-getter, a social butterfly who is also a thrill-seeker. I knew she’d be a great fit.
But as I, my husband and our three kids packed up the family van and drove to camp last week, I wondered if she was really ready. I hurriedly made her bed in the sweltering un-air conditioned cabin and I laid out her shoes and showed her where to put her dirty laundry, I wondered how she would do her own hair in the mornings, if she’d remember to brush her teeth. I wondered if she’d make it to the bathroom in the dark of night, or if she’d panic without us there.
As the sweat dripped down my back in the July Alabama sun, I got ready to say goodbye. I was prepared for tears. I was prepared for apprehension. What I was not prepared for was for them to be my own. As we walked out of the cabin, our 7-year-old jumped up and down excitedly, ready to join the rest of her “hut” for their swim test.
“Can I get a hug?” I asked, trying to keep up the excitement.
“Oh yeah, OK, Mommy,” our daughter replied. With a quick embrace, she was off, happily running downhill toward her new friends at the camp pool. My husband and I stood there, looking at each other, surprised.
“Do you think she’ll be OK?” I asked him on our drive back home.
“I hope so,” he replied.
And she was. Three days at camp was harder on us than it was for her. For her, it was the time of her life.
— Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.