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?
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.