I tried to hold back the tears. I really did. To my credit, they did not spill until after the bus pulled away and I was in the car. I had just peeled my younger son off of me and ushered him onto the big bus waiting to whisk him away to camp. My daughter too, had tears in her eyes, but managed to hold it together. My son, however, sat in a window seat, anxious to be as close to me as possible for as long as he could. His right hand and his forehead pressed against the window. He stayed that way with tears streaming down his face until the bus pulled away could no longer be seen. Oh, my heart. He didn’t want to go. He had many sleepless nights prior to leaving. The thought of going away sounded exciting until it was actually time to go.
This past summer, three of my children went away to summer camp for the first time. It brought back memories of my first time away at camp. I was in between two of my children’s ages when I went away for the first time.
It was a camp probably not too far away where they ended up. I refused to go unless my best friend at the time came with me. I was not brave enough to go alone. As we boarded the bus, I was weepy and didn’t want to let go of my mama. I didn’t want to go. I was afraid and didn’t like change. It was also my birthday. I wallowed in my self pity that I had to spend my birthday on a bus. It took me a good day to get over my sullenness and fear and start to fully engage with the people at camp. Letting go of my fear allowed me to really enjoy my time.
I still have vivid memories of those two weeks. I learned that I was stronger than I thought I was, mentally. Canoeing for two weeks straight made me physically stronger too. I gained a confidence I didn’t think was possible. I tried new things. Polar bear swimming was one of them. I’ve never been a morning person, so the thought of waking up early just to plunge into ice cold lake water at the crack of dawn was not exactly on my bucket list. But you know what? I did it… once. Those memories urged me to push my children into the unknown and outside their comfort zone. I knew they would have an experience that they too, would never forget.
Several weeks later, when we drove to pick them up, I was anxious to hear all about their weeks at camp. We had little contact with them, receiving one letter each from our younger son and daughter. We saw our daughter first, smiling ear to ear. She couldn’t wait to introduce me to all her friends and show us around. Then I saw my younger son from a distance. He ran to us with a smile on his face. What a transformation from how I left him two weeks prior! He couldn’t stop rambling about his adventures and all the new things he did. From there, we took the long trek over to where our older son was soon to arrive from their three day outing. The first glance of my teenage boy brought happy tears to my eyes. I could tell he was tired and weary and the pack on his back had to weigh at least 50 pounds. He was by far the shortest, smallest teen of his bunch, but he was one of the few that had smiles on their faces. One glance is all I needed to know that his smile was one of accomplishment.
The car ride home was abuzz with chatter of all the adventures. I soaked up all the excitement and said to my children, “You all did it! I am so proud of you! You braved the unknown and tried new things. You all went to camp by yourself without knowing anyone in your cabin. You made forever memories.”
They came home different people, a little more confident and a lot more brave.