This year, they’ll be away for THREE weeks. I’m heartbroken and kidsick already.
Last week, my kids went off to sleepaway summer camp again in the high Sierras—their third year in a row at Gold Arrow Camp.
I will never, not ever, forget the first time I dropped my kids off at camp.
The drop-off didn’t go very well.
When I was a kid, I begged and begged to go to sleepaway camp with my best friend, Rory. I did extra chores to earn it, and I counted the days until I got there. I don’t remember being homesick, or sad at the drop-off. I remember feeling wild and free. I loved the horses and the outdoors and ceramics. I got postcards from my teachers. It was awesome.
My kids had mixed feelings about going to camp that first year: They were excited, but also scared. “TWO WEEKS!?” my youngest cried when I told her what, to me, was great news: They were going to summer camp! “They have horses!” I said cheerfully, trying to drum up excitement. “And sailing! I’ve never been sailing myself,” I mourned. “You’ll get to do it before I do!”
I said this knowing full well that sailing is actually not on my daughters’ bucket list. It’s on mine.
The kids spent the last few weeks readying for camp and making serious sister pacts to stick together. My younger daughter, Molly, was particularly concerned about what would happen if her older sister made friends first. Would Fiona and she still pick the same activities? Could Molly join Fiona with her new friends? Pinky-swears of allegiance were traded, plans to sneak into each other’s cabins made.
Molly had a plan: Fiona would take care of her. She was nervous, but also excited.
Fiona was calm, reassuring.
That is, until about an hour before we arrived at camp. At which point Fiona became more clammy than cool and collected. She developed vague “not feeling well” symptoms. She was too carsick to eat lunch. When we arrived, she was faintly green.
Altitude sick, I declared. “Drink some water,” I insisted. “Take deep breaths,” I said, taking them myself. “Think good thoughts, Fiona. Find two things to be excited about.”
Frankly, I was feeling faint myself.
But the thing is, I believe that it is important to challenge kids. To get them truly outside of their comfort zones so that they can grow. Hence two weeks instead of a mini-camp. My desire to challenge my kids was reinforced in an Atlantic article about “Why the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods.” The gist of this article is that “kids who always have problems solved for them believe that they don’t know how to solve problems.” And the article is right—they don’t.
The article reminded me that happiness—an often fleeting emotion—in and of itself is not the goal. That comfort—my own or my children’s—is not the goal. Instead, all of this is about how to lead a happy life. And while it’s true that a happy life comes from positive emotions (like gratitude and compassion, for example), it also comes from having the tools we need to cope with life’s inevitable difficulties and painful moments.
My kids have had their difficulties—my divorce, a move away from a beloved school and neighborhood, a humbling medical situation—and they’ve risen to each challenge, though not without pain.
(I’d like to pause to acknowledge that even with those difficulties, my kids have a pretty cushy life. We don’t have to worry about where the next meal is coming from or where we will sleep tonight. That said, the fear the kids had anticipating me leaving them at camp was very real to all of us.)
At any rate, by sending my kids to camp, I was sending them the message that I believe that they can manage loneliness, and homesickness, and anxiety. I believed that they could, at the tender ages of 8 and 10, handle these difficult emotions themselves, without me standing over their shoulders telling them to breathe. As awful as it sometimes feels to me, they simply don’t always need me there, telling them what to do and what to think.
Continue this post on my Greater Good blog for more about why I want to my kids to unplug from electronics and me and embrace a little discomfort every summer.