learning to live and love from a new perspective

Archive for July, 2014

Harder Than I Thought

Here’s the conversation between me and G five minutes after we got home from camp drop-off…

 

G: Where’s S?

Me: She’s at sleep-away camp.

G: Oh yeah. Is she coming home tonight?

Me: No, we’re going to go get her on August 3rd. Remember that plan?

G: Oh yeah, I remember that plan. But I think we should make a new plan.

Me: Really? What’s the new plan?

G: I think instead of getting her on August 3rd… We should go get her tomorrow. What do you think?

 Gabe and %22Shira%22 doll

 

We dropped S off at camp last Sunday. She’s been away from home for eight days. I have checked the camp photo page, facebook page, and blog about seven times an hour for every one of those eight days. This has been SO MUCH harder than I expected.

 

S is intense. She is energetic. She has big ideas. Non-stop. As in, all the time. In the days and weeks leading up to camp, I pictured what it would be like for me during the twelve days S was at camp. I envisioned myself happily writing and receiving letters. I imagined enjoying some quiet time in the afternoon that I could focus some attention on G, and quiet time in the evening that I could focus some attention on David. I imagined leisurely perusing the camp photo page, facebook page and blog exclaiming in delight when I happened upon a photo of my little girl engaged in some exciting, fun activity. I imagined a sense of equanimity knowing that my fun-loving S was out in the world having the adventure of a lifetime.

That’s kind of how it was for the first two days S was gone. It was quiet in our house. The quiet was kind of weird… but good.

Then came the phone call from the “camp mom”. S was homesick. Our sweet, spunky, silly, wacky little S was homesick. My tears started flowing before the message was even half over.

I spent the next twelve hours wracked with guilt. This whole sleep-away camp thing seemed like such a good idea when we were in the planning stages. It still seemed like a good idea when we dropped her off. Did I think S was going to enjoy camp? Of course. Did I think she was going to love every single second? Absolutely not. I expected she would have the passing moments of uncertainty and homesickness. But I didn’t expect prolonged, awake-at-night, crying-at-meals, camp-mom-calling-and-leaving-me-messages homesickness.

 I felt like my heart was breaking. I was filled with self-doubt. How could I have misjudged the situation so completely? Suddenly, instead of mental images of S on the ropes course, splashing in the lake, or roasting marshmallows at a campfire… my mind was filled with visions of S sitting quietly at the breakfast table, lower lip trembling as she valiantly tries to hold back the tears.

I was filled with regret. We’d spent so many hours preparing for camp. We addressed envelopes together. We decorated her letter organizer and her shoe organizer. We picked out and labeled her clothes together. We talked about schedules and activities and how to sort her laundry. Why didn’t we talk about homesickness? I screwed up.

I stayed up late into the night. I read all the articles about homesickness, and about what you’re supposed to say to your kid before they leave for camp. I felt like a failure. I beat myself up.

And then I came across the words that helped, written by Amanda Orgel Ferguson on her blog “A Life With Ted” (https://www.facebook.com/alifewithted). She’s writing specifically about kids with special needs… but, in my opinion, her words apply to all kids.

 Your kids see you, they copy you, they want to be like you. If you think they can’t,then they think they can’t. Why not adopt the attitude that of course they can, and you will help them. That difficult or new experiences aren’t bad, they are just learning experiences. Let your kid learn to be ok without you.

And with that, I was all done beating myself up. I may have erred on the side of talking too little about the difficult parts, and for that I am sorry. Next time, she’s taking on a challenge, I’ll talk to her about the things that will be fun as well as the things that might be hard. However, what I did not give myself credit for before, but I do now, is the faith that I was projecting. Deep down, I have confidence in S. She is capable, she is resilient, and she can take on the tough stuff.

 And then I gave myself permission to make mistakes. Maybe sleep-away camp at age eight was a big mistake. Maybe not talking about homesickness was an enormous blunder. But I can’t change what’s already done. I can only promise myself to do better in the future.

 I got back in bed, and fell asleep for a couple of hours. I woke up in the morning with the resolve to allow myself to feel sad about S’s homesickness without succumbing to the damaging feelings of self-blame and guilt.

Several hours later the phone rang. It was the camp mom again. S’s homesickness had subsided. She had checked in on S several times during the day, and she was happy to report that S had given her a big smile and a thumbs-up each time.

I’m proud of my daughter. She is in a new place, with new people, and she’s finding her way on her own. I can’t wait for her to come home and tell me all about her accomplishments. And I can’t wait to tell her how amazing, resilient and awesome she is.

Letter from S

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Holding On and Letting Go

DROP-OFF DAY: PART ONEP1020561

S has an adventurous soul. She craves excitement, noise, and activity. She is social, confident and intrepid. As her personality has developed over the last few years, we’ve always known that sleep-away camp was the place for her. We just didn’t know it would be so soon. However, after a lifetime of hearing her cousins describe the amazing adventures they were having at camp, S knew she wanted to be there the moment they would let her in the front gate. And so, it was never a question in her mind that she would be going to sleep-away camp at age eight.

As Drop-off Day approached, the frequency of camp-related conversation increased. Questions about the daily schedule (what time do you think we’ll wake up?) and practicalities of camp life (what do I do with my dirty clothes?) popped up with more and more regularity. However, the dominant mood was excitement. I did my best to keep my nerves to myself. My mood was equal parts anxiety and happy anticipation.P1020559

Driving into camp on Drop-off Day was like an adventurous, social kid’s dream come true. We were greeted at the gate by the camp director and assistant director. They gave us a map of camp, and instructions to get to S’s bunk. All along the driveway, counselors smiled and waved. I felt a little like a celebrity ☺ We kept the windows rolled down, and the sound of Israeli music came pulsing into our car, making even the air feel alive and vibrant.

Arriving at S’s bunk exceeded my expectations once again. Three lively counselors welcomed S into the bunk, showed her where she would be sleeping, and where she could unpack. Within fifteen minutes, she was unpacked and ready to go. We joined the growing group of campers and staff at the Opening Day Carnival. We enjoyed a BBQ lunch and a number of activities.

Then came the hard part.

Me: Hey, S, I think it’s getting to be time to say good-bye. What do you think? Are you ready?
S: Well, I think I’m almost ready. Maybe we could walk back to my bunk and say good-bye there?

And so, we walked back to the cabin. But when we arrived, S thought that maybe just one more walk to the lake would be good. And then back to the carnival. The more we walked, the more I thought about how hard it is to say good-bye– for both her and us. The decision to go to camp was a good one. The desire for fun, and adventure, and independence all came from her. Even amidst the last-minute second thoughts, I wanted her to remember that. As we rounded the last bend in our approach to her cabin, and second attempt at saying good-bye, I stopped her.

Me: S, you have an important job to do right now.

S: I do?
Me: You do. The camp fun can’t start until all the campers send their parents home. It’s your job, as a fun-loving, wacky-headed kid to get rid of us. You don’t want to hold up the fun, do you?
S: No.
Me: You are a fun-loving, wacky-headed kid, right?
S: Right.
Me: Okay, so you have to do it. In the name of everything that is silly and goofy… you need to send us home.

And with that, S made the “I’m watching you” sign by pointing to her eyes with both fingers, then pointing to my eyes with both fingers. She repeated the sign with her dad. Then, she stood up tall, and pointed toward the parking lot. We did one last giggly group hug, then we were off.

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DROP-OFF DAY: PART TWO
We are in the car, on the highway headed home. Just me, David and G. My thoughts race forward to the quiet house that awaits us at the end of this journey. Then, surprisingly, my thoughts travel backwards to another car ride, so many years ago.

There were only three of us in the car on that day as well. But on that day, three people felt like A LOT. It was me, David, and tiny, baby S who had just been born several days earlier. The three of us were in the car together for the first time, and I was terrified. I was responsible for this tiny human being. I was responsible for feeding her, and clothing her and keeping her safe. These tasks seemed so daunting and monumental, they literally made my heart-rate speed up and my hands shake. While I was in the hospital, I had felt supported and nurtured by the kind doctors and nurses who had popped in at all hours to check on us and to give us instructions and advice. We left those gentle strangers behind, when we pulled away from the hospital. I suppose David and I became parents the moment S was born. But to me, I began to feel like a parent on that long ride home from the hospital. Me, David and S… on this journey together. When we reached our house, and crossed the threshold as a family for the first time, I felt the anxiety begin to ease. Knowing that my life was inextricably bound to these two people felt a little bit scary… but it also felt as if it was meant to be. David and I looked at each other in that moment, and we knew we would spend the coming days, months and years figuring out what it meant to be a family, and infusing meaning into that journey.

Eight and a half years later, we are still figuring it out, bit by bit. Eight and a half years ago, S’s presence in our car transformed us from a married couple into a family of three. Today, S’s absence turns us back into a family of three. Her absence is palpable. David, G and I will have to figure out how to be around each other without her energy, her giggles, and her effusive outbursts.

This separation, this letting go, is a small one. She’ll only be gone for two weeks (actually, only 12 days– but who’s counting?). But somehow, it feels symbolic of all the separations, leave-takings, and letting go’s that are in store for us on this journey. It feels like only moments ago that she was a tiny baby, coming home with us from the hospital. Only moments ago that she transformed us into parents. And now, she’s out in the world. Being independent. Choosing to be in a place where she can learn, discover and grow on her own.

Staying close is important. Expressions of love, caring and support are what every child needs to thrive, become confident and take risks. Being able to let go and give them room to spread their wings is part of the process. Giving S permission to separate and kick us out of camp felt important. But it was hard.

I look over to David, my fellow traveler on this ever-changing journey. The tears in his eyes match my own. We’ll miss our S. But we’re proud of her. And we’re proud of us, too.

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