Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Summer Camping 2014

Ten years ago when I thought forward to the unique scenarios of triplets, Summer camping was no where on the list--but it is THE big thing going on for our family this month.

I had one experience with Summer camping as a child--Camp Pinnacle in 1983. While I am sure it is a wonderful time in many girls' lives, it was not a pleasant experience for me. I remember falling out of bed and waking up to everyone laughing over me. It rained every day and I was terribly homesick. To top it all off, I arrived back home to heartbreaking family news--and as quickly as it had begun, my childhood camping chapter was mercifully closed. 

My children, on the other hand, seem to have a camping gene.  Their Daddy spent many Summers at Camp Rockmont in Black Mountain, NC. Through our involvement with Young Life, our trio has accompanied us to camp a dozen times for both weekend and week long terms. For K,P & R it was not as much a question of whether or not to go--but when and where.

The girl camp decision was an easy one as the owners of Skyline Ranch attend our church. Our high level of trust in them and their hearts--not to mention the feedback from others--led us to a mother/daughter weekend when K was 8 years old. She begged me to sign her up for Summer before we'd even left the premises. Last year she attended a 'mini' session for 6 nights and this year she is returning for a full-fledged 12 night term with zero anxiety and a great deal of excitement.

The boy choice was a bit more complicated. My husband took R & P to his childhood camp for a father/son weekend last Spring. Both boys were sold on camp, but 'not yet.' Interestingly, the day K returned from her camp (only 2 months later) they were emphatic that they were ready. It wasn't really surprising. Apparently being the oldest by one minute still counts for something! She has spent her whole life being the sacrificial lamb--first to be born, first to have shots, first to try most things--the boys always seem to gauge her reaction before deciding if they are ready.

By the time they decided last Summer, most camps were full, so we have been able to spend a year talking about and preparing for camp. The only caveat? One of the boys requested that they attend separate camps. It was not enough to go different weeks, P wanted his own 'place.' Because individuality is a core value of ours in raising this little pack, we celebrated the request and set about the process of deciding which camps would be the best matches for our guys. 

R is a traditionalist, so he expressed interest in continuing the Rockmont legacy. P was indifferent, so we began our research to find his spot. When three different people mentioned the same camp to us in two days, our ears perked up. He is now on day 7 of 9 at Alpine--and if photos online and letters are any indication--this has been the place God had in mind for P. Entrusting a child to strangers for a week and a half is a trust fall like no other--and yet, that in and of itself, has been a healthy and productive experience for me and my husband.

Three different camp locations and schedules has made for a logistical challenge. My house (specifically, my laundry room) has become a revolving door this week. When P returns Thursday I will have approximately 36 hours to sort through, wash and repack the basics R needs for his departure early Saturday for North Carolina. The next morning K will be dropped off for her term in Alabama. Five days later I will make the trek back to get R. Less than a week after that we will load up again to bring back our girl. Whew!

Although it feels a bit premature to write about the benefits of a season we are only entering into, I have peace that even the hard parts of this month are good and right. There have already been gifts that I do not want to forget. 

1. The cycles of departures and returns have made for special one-on-one and two-on-one times with my children and my husband. It is amazing how the subtraction of just one personality completely alters the family dynamic. I have been able to tailor activities and even dinners to the specific desires of a smaller crowd--and we have been able to talk about what various members of our family add and how we look forward to their return.

2. Simply having something big to look forward to--and work preparing for--has incited a great deal of growth in us all. I'm convinced one child decided to pass along their lovie in preparation for camp. We've made strides in fear of the dark and personal care in advance of having a week of going it alone without parental support. Frankly, even before they have left, my husband and I have noticed maturity and confidence as these kiddos have begun to believe in themselves that they are ready and this is going to be good. 

3. Sending them out is teaching them that we will not always physically be there--but God is. Shortly before P left I asked him what his plan was to 'tuck himself in' at camp. His reply was direct and assured. "I'll pray." This is what it is all about.

4. This has been an intentional season of telling our kids over and over again, "We believe you can do this." What a great phrase and oh, how it speaks to young hearts! Under my breath and deep in my heart, I've also said to God, "I believe YOU can do this" and I'd like to think He winks back..."Yes, Jennifer, we can do this."

Doing hard things is one of the greatest ways to insure we are leaning on His strength, not our own.

I think there is a belief that parents 'send kids off' to camp to keep them busy or otherwise 'get rid of them.' Maybe this is true for some, but anyone who has ever put the work into packing one up--and felt the ache walking past empty bedrooms as they are gone--will likely disagree. 

Our perspective is different. Sending them off is the entire goal of parenthood--launching them into the world, equipped for the plans God has for them. In our family it seems camp is a part of that process--a safe, fun way to practice. Camp is a confidence building and spiritually enriching experience of standing on their own two feet--trusting God and the broader body to fill in some gaps that those standing so close to these children may be blinded to. 

A friend of mine summed up my thoughts beautifully when upon her daughter's return from a week at Greystone she said, "Camp gave her something I didn't even know she needed until she got back and had it."

I am anxious to get my hands on my P. I miss him madly. I am also excited to launch my other two into an exciting challenge that I trust God will use as another chapter in their story.


HW said...

You are so right; sending them off IS a goal of parenthood. My husband and I, when asked how we like the empty nest, always answer "We love it!!" And many people look at us like we must be crazy. We look at our empty nest as a goal met and, knowing our kids are happy and strong and confident enough to be doing what they are doing, makes it very easy to enjoy this phase of life. Enjoy this summer as you get to hear about each child's adventures. You really are in yet another magical phase of parenting.

Rachel said...

I've been reading your blog for a while now and rarely comment (so terrible, I know!). But I just wanted to say this post blessed me so much. I have fond memories of camp from my own childhood, so I can relate to the excitement that surrounds the anticipation and growth that comes from the experience. I really appreciate your perspective and your approach to it being practice at letting them go and spread their wings. What a gift to them and to you and your husband. Also, the part about God winking at you saying "We can do this," I just loved. What a reminder for us in all things. Thanks for sharing your experience here!

Keri said...

This post has been rolling around in my mind since I read it the day you posted it. As someone who struggles with fear (not just as a mother, but as far back as I remember), I had pretty much completely ruled out the idea of sending any of my kids to camp....EVER. That's something that's so far out of my comfort zone that you may as well tell me to send them alone into the ghetto at midnight. But God has been speaking to me (a lot!) in recent years about not making decisions based on fear, and so when I read this post...well, I gulped and did my best to open the ears of my heart. As I said, I've been pondering this post quite a bit, and I'll probably continue to do so.

I'm not even sure how any of my children feel about going to camp, because they know that so far I've never even entertained the possibility, so they've never considered it either. And they've heard my own story; like you, I had a horrible camp experience myself (although mine ended prematurely, as I cried so desperately with homesickness that they called my parents on Day Three and asked them to come pick me up...yikes!), so there's that hurdle to overcome too.

Honestly, everything you said here about the benefits of camp have simply blown me away. I never in a million years would have considered ANY of that, had I even given camp a second thought. But now that you've brought them into the light for me....

Thank you so much for writing this eye-opening (for me, anyway) post. And who knows, maybe one day a couple of years from now, I'll have to tell one or more of my children to write you a thank-you note, too..from camp! :-)

Helen said...

Thank you for this post! My son is the same age as your three, just about to turn 10, and we are really struggling with sending him to camp this year or not. I loved camp as a kid and really want mine to enjoy it, but I'm pretty sure he's not ready and I'm afraid will be miserable and upset for most of the time. But he is so desperate to go, and homesickness won't be his problem. Still not sure what we will decide, but thanks for the insight that they can develop and mature at the last minute as they prepare to go.