“Making the decision to have a child–it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” ―Elizabeth Stone
Parenting through the elementary years seems to be a gradual release, letting go of the demands (and some of the rewards) of mothering small children. Part of me welcomes the release, and I want nothing more for my daughters than to soar into fulfilling, independent lives of their own. But another part chafes from the change, wanting to keep the chubby hands in mine, kiss the soft cheeks whenever I want, and to feel OK with pushing the rest of the world aside while I do the important work of bonding with my babies.
I thought it would be years from now before I experienced a night away from my older daughter, a rising second grader. But when the opportunity arose to attend sleepaway camp, the day in which my heart would be an hour away from me came much sooner than I expected.
The Girl Scouts in our region offer a shorter experience for their youngest campers, called Pony Camp Express, at Camp Marydale in St. Francisville. A friend from church invited my seven year old to join her at the two-night camp. After initially dismissing it out of hand myself, we discussed it further as a family and decided to go for it.
Preparing for the camp took extraordinary effort, especially considering it was for only 48 hours (drop off 3 p.m. on Wednesday, pick up 3 p.m. on Friday). I wrote my beloved daughter’s carefully chosen name hundreds of times on every sock, underpants, sleeping bag, pillowcase, etc. I wasn’t taking chances that anything would get misplaced. Drop off was uneventful. Miss Seven was unphased and unbothered. She barely said goodbye and was already playing with her friend and others.
The next two days included a lot of rain–it was the recent early June week of the heavy flash flooding that saw cars swept away and that claimed at least one life. I wasn’t frantic, but I did want reassurance that the camp hadn’t sustained any damage. I sucked it up and became “that mom,” emailing the camp director to let me know all was well weather-wise. Seven hours later, I got a response, which is better than no response but still caused me a lot of stress.
When signing in for Friday afternoon pickup, the first thing I heard was negative. There had been a pushing incident the second day, and the director had to talk to her about how it was not something a Girl Scout should do. I was near tears, exhausted from poor sleep and wanting to see my daughter–the last thing I wanted to hear was a report on her bad behavior. I could have absorbed it more gracefully after we had been reunited. The pushing was mutual and minor, likely a result of too little sleep (10 p.m. lights out is two full hours later than our normal bedtime) and being hungry (she didn’t care for the food too much). Still.
The rain meant that the girls didn’t get to swim during the camp, which is something my daughter loves to do more than most anything. That was a huge disappointment. She did enjoy learning about and taking care of the ponies.
I asked on the way out if I could check Lost & Found for any missing items. My daughter’s counselor assured me she had everything packed. Of course, I discovered several missing items later: flashlight, battery-operated fan and the lid/straw/clip/strap for her brand-new water bottle. The flashlight and fan could easily be re-used at camp. The information says they donate lost items to local charities, but I don’t know that I want my daughter’s name on something donated! When a local friend took her daughters to Pony Camp, she asked for me and actually got the water bottle lid back! Writing my daughter’s name so many times was not in vain after all.
My girl isn’t sure if she wants to be a Girl Scout, go to camp again or even join a troop in the fall. I think a longer, five-day camp may have actually been better for her, allowing her more time to get in a groove and enjoy the independence. But that also may be something she’s just not ready for at seven. Perhaps 17?!