Quick lessons in child development

We returned to the beach in time for general swim check-in. The all-camp teams lined up at the beach entrance. The campers were pretty animated, discussing the afternoon’s activities. There was much speculation about the outcome of the ‘whodunit’. I could not resist smiling.

My son returned to his sand castle making and I wrapped myself in a towel, found a folding chair, and set it up a few feet away in the shade of a massive pine tree. I watched as my daughters came in with their team and lay their towels on the sand along with their group. They were deeply involved in a debate with a couple of the younger campers. I tried to catch their eye but to no avail. No biggie. I didn’t want to intrude. I would get the update at bedtime. 

One thing I heard from my kids through the years of going to camp was that on occasion a counselor or a camper would suggest that the camp nurse’s kids were mollycoddled. They found this very hurtful. Now perhaps this appeared to be the case when the kids were younger, living in the main house, and being watched by ‘childcare’. I would argue, however, that my kids attempted to be as independent as possible. They wanted to be just like the regular campers.

Now, the summer when the girls turned eight and were allowed in the huts, that was admittedly a bit of an adjustment. I remember looking over to the Deer hut table to see how the girls were doing at dinner the first evening of camp when I noticed daughter One was missing. I caught one of the Deer hut counselor’s eyes and gave her a questioning look. She, in response, nodded toward the doors and mimed crying. I stepped outside to see if there was anything I could do.

There she was sitting on the steps with her counselor, Leslie. Daughter One was bawling.

“Oh my! What’s the matter darlin’?” I asked as I sat down on the other side of her and gently rubbed her back.

“She’s homesick.” Leslie replied. I could barely stiffle a laugh! I looked at Leslie with complete shock. Seriously?

“How can you be homesick pookie? Your family is here at camp!”

“I know that,” she sniffled, “but I miss the dog and grandma and grandpa and my actual house!” She cried and wiped her runny nose with the back of her hand. She was so vulnerable and seemed so small. I wanted to just scoop her up and cradle her but I resisted the urge. It was painful.

“Well, we will see the dog and grandma and grandpa at visitor’s day in seven days and you will be back home in fourteen days. In the meantime you are going to make new friends, and get a swimming badge, and make some cool arts and crafts and learn how to sail a boat. OK?”

Awh. That’s so nice.

“But I miss you too mum. I miss being in the main house. Can’t I just stay with you?” She begged.

“Honey, there is really no room for you in the main house this session, so I need you to be brave and stay in the hut. But, I tell you what…you can come up to the health office for a quick visit if you need to see me OK? And I will see you at meals and at general swim too.”

“OK,” she responded resignedly. 

“Let’s go back in and eat, shall we?” I gave her a quick kiss on the head and got up to leave.

“You go ahead mum. I need a minute to pull myself together,” she said. I looked to Leslie and she smile and waved me off. I went back in to eat dinner and noticed later in the meal that my daughter had returned to the table. She had a stoic look to her that pulled at my heartstrings. This must be a little bit what it was like to drop your kids off at camp, I imagined. But, I had the distinct advantage (or disadvantage?) of being able to see them daily if I wanted to.

My daughter never did come up to the health office that summer. Not once! She survived that first night in the hut and many more after that for many years. She became a bit of an expert on homesickness after that. Her recommendation? “Focus on the fun. Think about all the cool things you are doing. Then, every night, you can put another stroke on your calendar. And, if you are feeling homesick, the last person you should talk to is another homesick camper about being homesick. You will only be sucked further into the darkness! Go find some campers who are having fun, and hang with them. Now if none of that works, then just bury your head into your pillow and silently cry it out at night.” Ummm…OK. Sage advice, I guess.

Through the years, I seldom saw my own children once they were out in the huts. I gave them their space. I knew that they would be well cared for out there, so there was no need for me to be a helicopter mum. I also knew they were having a blast…so that was reassuring too.

That day on the beach, the girls were busy with their all-camp team. My son, meanwhile, was getting frustrated with his sand castles. Campers were inadvertently stepping on them or knocking them down as some of the boys were trying to help him expand his village. Finally he broke down completely, crying in anger and frustration, he came running to me in tears. I picked him up and sat him on my lap, wrapping my warm towel around him and myself. Cocooned in there with me, he lay his head on my shoulder and softly cried. His crying slowed as I felt his little body begin to relax into me. I looked over at the girls being all independent and free wheeling and I pulled the towel a little bit tighter around my little boy. I buried my nose in his curls. He smelled of sun warmed skin, sand and lake water. I needed to cherish this. It would not be long. Not long at all. 

It only took about two minutes before my son was snoozing peacefully. And about two minutes after that…so was I. Naps rock.


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