Dropping The Kids Off At Camp: Why We Left Our Boys With Strangers

Last Sunday, I dropped Zach and Ezra off with strangers.  In the woods.  For twelve days.

Who does that?

I mean who hands off their babies to young men who look like they smoked a fair amount of pot at some point – or yesterday – and assumes that everything will be just fine?  (To be fair, I’m not sure that I can tell the difference between stoners and happy, healthy kids who happen to like being barefoot in the woods.)

But that’s what I did on Sunday.  Despite the fact that I couldn’t sleep on Saturday and that I’ve had a pit in my stomach for the better part of this week, I left the boys at camp.  I wrote some about the reasons we decided to send our kids to camp hereherehere and here. (Can you tell I’ve been ambivalent about it?  All of the posts are a sign that I’m trying to convince myself that it’s not loony.)

The deciding factor was Michael Thompson’s book, Homesick and Happy, where he writes that there are eight things parents want to do for their children but can’t.  He writes that:

1.  We cannot make our children happy.

2.  We cannot give our children high self-esteem.

3.  We cannot make friends for our children or micro-manage their friendships.

4.  We cannot successfully double as our child’s agent, manager, and coach.

5.  We cannot create the “second family” for which our child yearns in order to be facilitate his or her own growth.

6.  We cannot compete with or limit our children’s total immersion in the online, digital, and social media realms.

7.  We cannot keep our children perfectly safe.

8.  We cannot make our children independent.

I’m not convinced by everything on his list, but as I read through the book, I recognized again how much energy I spend trying to keep my kids perfectly safe, manage their friendships and, quite frankly, manage all aspects of their life – even their attempts to gain some independence.

Soon after arriving, Zach went out to take his swim test.  When he came out of the water, one of counselors came up to tell him that the rest of the cabin was gathering outside to play some get-to-know-you games.

“Shouldn’t I go get dried off and change clothes first?” Zach wondered.

I started to tell him not to worry about that.  That he could play the games in his swimsuit.  That changing his clothes would take too long and he didn’t want to miss the opening activities. Somehow, maybe because I felt guilty about helping him unpack after being told we shouldn’t, I managed to stay silent.  His groovy counselor said in his best Jeff Spicoli voice, “Yes.  That sounds good.”

He didn’t tell Zach that if he just had to go change he should be quick about it, as I would have.  He just let him make a decision that he was comfortable with, a decision that didn’t matter – except to Zach.  In that moment, I knew we had made the right decision to send the boys to camp.  And in the panicky moments since then, I keep reminding myself that my boys will see a truer version of themselves in the eyes of those strangers than they often see in mine.  And then I pray that I would have eyes to see that version too.

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