Every day, I throw things out. It’s the entire heart of this year long project. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard, but usually it involves some sort of time commitment and some examination of why I had the object in the first place.
Last week I had to throw out what I thought everyone expected the parent of a sleepaway camper to do. Last week, I drove out in the middle of the night, and retrieved my middle child from camp. No, it wasn’t a physical object, but it took an enormous amount of time, thought, effort, and heartache. Here are some of the things I learned from this experience:
1. Teaching my child to be tenacious is not necessarily the same thing as teaching him to endure what he perceives as misery. This is a hard thing to parse out because my misery is your joy. The thought of a flash mob of dancing people around me makes me almost want to vomit. Other people, mobs of people even, think this is the definition of pure bliss. My kid was telling me his perception of his world was misery. The question I had to ask was “do I trust what he is telling me, or do I trust conventional wisdom about toughening kids up.”
In his case, he learned that tenacity is as much about making your voice heard as it is about enduring crying himself to sleep at night.
2. It’s okay to question our decisions as parents. It really is. I talked to so many people last week: parents and non-parents (even brand new parents, who already understand how difficult even the smallest of decisions can be when it dictates another person’s entire universe). It turns out most parents are hugely conflicted about how to decide things. Camp is a big one. One friend feels like she traumatized her child for life because the child was not permitted to phone home from camp. Another wished he’d started sending his child earlier because of the experiences the child had missed out on.
I have not felt any judgement from fellow parents for the decision to retrieve him.
3. We don’t always know how to make decisions that are too close to us. It’s like this: someone else I knew told me how they had contemplated a punishment for if their child returned home early. My reaction was easy: I knew that was the wrong approach, I knew that hitting that point of return (or no return, if you will) was going to be so emotionally traumatic for everyone, adding a punishment almost felt gratuitous. And yet, when it came to my child, I immediately thought of offering rewards for staying and punishments for leaving. Thankfully, I took my own advice, and I did not have to hit him when he was down.
When he came home he slept for 12 hours that night/day and went to bed early the following night. He was so emotionally drained as to be nearly immobilized.
4. Being a hero is great if you reserve it for emergencies. Helicopter parenting is the phrase du jour – no one wants to be seen as the hovering parent who slips into Junior’s calculus class at University to kiss his boo-boo better and give the Professor a good tongue-lashing for that minus on the A-. But isn’t it just the best thing in the whole world to know that someone has your back? That no matter how far down you go, there will be a pair of open arms?
When I pulled up that night and Solomon was standing on the steps (he’d heard me drive in, I was the only car) I was so glad. And when he waited, cautiously, for me to come to a complete stop and turn the car off and then (and only then) rush toward me, arms wide…I felt like the superest superhero there ever was. I was Mom, by gum, and I had made it all right. The time is coming when I will not be able to do this for him, but last week, I could and I did.
5. Believing and trusting your kid can be transformative. The phone calls, when he could hardly speak, were filled with horror stories of mean kids, heartless counsellors, and a cruel system that frog-marched kids from one extreme activity to the next. The drive home, in his soft and relaxed voice, was filled with stories of new friends, counsellors who sought assistance and became incredible support systems, and a camp filled with hustle and bustle of interesting and engaging fun activities. As soon as he was able to relax into safety it was as though a magic wand had waved over his memory and transformed everything into the best version of itself.
I can’t tell you what to do if your kid is at camp and miserable. I also can’t tell you what to do when your kid comes home from camp and is more than a little peeved that you would not send him for a second week (Max, last year). I know I made the right decision last week and I made it by really, honestly trying to just throw out what I should do and just trying really hard to hear what my child was saying to me.
He’s dead sure his sister is going to love it there.
Day 263 scorecard: 1315 down, 530 to go