Messages from a friend

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One of my best friends sends his daughter to Birch Trail. He spent three years on staff here when we were in college, and has witnessed the positive impact of summer camp on both campers and staff. His wife, however, never went to camp. So when they found out they were having a daughter, he began the campaign for her to attend Birch Trail. My friend – let’s just call him Brad – did all he could to convince his wife that sending their daughter to camp would be one of the best gifts they could give her. Long story short, they sent her to Birch Trail last summer and after she came home, both mom and dad saw the growth and maturity that camp sparked in her. They were hooked.

She was back again this year for summer number two. Seeing their daughter so happy at camp always brought a smile to my face.

Now, I’m not getting any younger, but one of the perks to being a middle-aged camp director is serving the children of friends and peers who I knew and worked with when I was younger. This is particularly meaningful to me. It’s true (as the perennial favorite camp song goes) that “all my life’s a circle.” It is indeed a unique and special privilege to witness the next generation of campers find life-long friendships and lessons at Birch Trail.

Now that my friend’s daughter is back again, he has shared a different side of the summer camp experience. I have heard from him a few times this summer. The first was a text message to relay the wonderful stories that filled the two letters she wrote home. The next time I heard from him, he told me how hard it is to be away from his daughter. I wrote him back and explained how camp is a growth experience for parents, too. It’s a struggle to be away from our kids, to let go of control, and trust that they will be ok without us. More than anything, we just miss being around them. However, we also know that the end result is worth it.

I spend a good portion of my day on the phone with parents, and more often than not, the conversations are just as much about the needs of parents as they are the needs of our campers. As a parent to three children myself I fully understand how much time and effort we dedicate to our children. In this way, it can be difficult to dis-engage from these intentions when your kids are away at camp. (It can also make this even harder when your kids seem to not notice or have any difficulty with this same separation). The reality is that when your kids leave for camp their lives change drastically. At camp, they begin a wonderful adventure in a beautiful place filled with new friends and activities. These friendships and activities lead to stronger interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and self-efficacy.

In contrast, the lives of parents at home don’t really change when your kids go to camp. The duality of being happy for what your kids are learning and then being sad that it’s not you teaching it to them can be tough.

My friend Brad now gets all of this, just like all of you get it too. But that does not always make it any easier. What does make it easier is seeing the changes in your daughter when she comes home from camp. Learning how to waterski, make a bowl on the ceramics wheel, or improve their tennis games are important skills, but the real reward is seen in terms of character. My favorite conversations with parents are the ones where they tell me how much more independent, mature, generous, and grateful their children are after coming home from camp. If you are like my friend Brad, the mixed emotions you felt halfway through the summer are a little easier to put in perspective when the first thing your daughter says as she steps off the plane is, “I have to go for eight weeks next year!”

 

 

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