The Education of a Camper's Mom

Mar 20, 2015, 15:14 PM by Kathy Yates

How One Parent Learned That Camp Wasn't Only Good For Her Son

The knot settled into my stomach on Saturday night. Our 9-year-old son was headed off the next day to a weeklong YMCA summer camp, and I was starting to question if it was the right thing to do. He had never been away from one of us for more than two nights.

I wondered if he would get homesick and, if so, how badly. I wondered if, being more of an observer, he would stand on the sidelines and watch others have fun. I wondered if he would make a friend or if he would feel lost in the crowd. It was Tuesday before I finally calmed down, realizing if things were really bad, we would have gotten a phone call.

Still, it was a long week. My husband checked Facebook every night for any new posts and, more specifically, photos that would provide evidence our child was fine. One of the rules of YMCA Camp Santa Maria is that kids can’t bring any technology with them. I liked the sound of that until it became clear that it worked both ways. In our situation, it was the technology-reliant parents—not the camper—who needed to be weaned from continual connection.

We drove up to Camp Santa Maria to pick up Quinn on Saturday. We saw him standing next to St. John’s Hall, playing with two other boys. His first words to me were “Hi, Mom! Can I stay another week?” So much for homesickness. He then asked if he could lead us on a hike up to the meadow. He confidently led the way of the 3.8-mile trek, talking about all of the week’s activities. Those two boys and he had struck up a friendship during the week with promises to stay in touch. All of my fears were relieved.

In addition to the many changes we observed during the hike, there were additional changes that emerged once home. The biggest difference had to do with school. Quinn was heading into the 5th grade, so it would be his last year at his elementary school. Once back from camp, he asked if he could change schools. He said he wanted to be more challenged and was ready for a change. This would have been his third year with the same teacher and classmates. The child before summer camp found that comforting. The child after summer camp wanted something new.

The following summer Quinn asked to attend two weeks of summer camp, one in June and another at the end of July. Again we saw changes. That summer he bodysurfed in the Atlantic Ocean and jumped into cold lakes. When I noted his willingness to literally jump in, he said he learned at camp that he was braver than he thought. He was more willing to take chances: Not foolish chances but the kind of chances that let you have fun and not stand on the sidelines watching others have fun.

There are many articles about the benefits of camp for kids, all of which seem to be true. The other side of that coin is that camp is good for parents.

During that first week that Quinn was gone, my husband and I came to terms with the fact that our child was growing up. We were a bit startled to realize that the separation that naturally occurs between parent and child had all ready begun, whether or not we liked it or were ready for it.

With each camp experience, we receive back a more independent child who can and wants to do for himself. It was initially our challenge, not his, to let him do those things and not nervously hover. We saw that he had confidence in his own skills, and the best thing we could do was to step back and let him flourish.

It also became clear that the camp counselor had communicated life lessons about attitude and making choices. And it seemed those messages carried greater weight coming from a cool 22-year-old counselor with a Scottish accent than hearing them from Mom or Dad.

Quinn’s absence has also been a reminder to my husband and me that Quinn will be leaving our home in a nano-second. In the years that remain before college or some other form of independence, we are centered in our commitment to enjoy the time that we have with our child while taking the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company when he is away.

This summer Quinn is enrolled to attend camp for two weeks, staying over the weekend. It will be a fast two weeks for him and a long two weeks for his parents. Still, there is great comfort in knowing that he is having fun and curiousness about what we all will learn about ourselves this time.

Kathy Yates is a mom and wife who loves the outdoors and specializes in Change Leadership with Concurrence Consulting.