Mica started asking us if she could go to camp this summer, sometime around March break. Specifically, to a one-week sleepover camp, Big Cove YMCA, in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. Two of her friends were attending, for the second year in a row, and she had heard them rave about the camp and how much fun they had.
Our immediate reaction was, “No. No way. You are too young, you aren’t old enough to go to sleepover camp. You’ll miss us too much, you’ll be so homesick, and it’s too expensive to risk having to come pick you up because you are homesick.” We were very firm and adamant in our decision, really and truly believing that she is too young. “You’re only 8, Mica, you’re too little to go to camp.” This, our reasoning, didn’t make sense to her – her friends were going, and they had even gone the year before when they were both 7. She pushed and pushed, but we didn’t budge.
Over the next few months, leading up to the summer, she continued to ask. She amped up her reasoning tactics as she explored new avenues to express her desire to go. She wrote a poem in French and stuck it on the fridge, which listed the reasons why she should be allowed to go. She wrote a small story, stapling the pages together into an illustrated book, all about a little girl who went to camp and had so much fun. She left notes by our bedside table, “Dear Mummy and Daddy. Please can I go to Big Cove. I will be good for an entire year and never complain, and never ask for anything again.” She wasn’t giving up, and nor were we.
I was also in the midst of reading Dr. Shefali’s latest book, ‘The Awakened Family’. As I read her book, and identified more and more with Dr. Shefali words, I began to think about what expectations I have placed on my own children, and how I attempt to control so many aspects of their behaviour. This is not to say that we cannot set boundaries and limits for our children. This is in fact our job, to keep them safe, and help them learn to make good decisions. But we can also do this while honouring and allowing their inner spirits to blossom.
Here was this young girl, wanting to go out and explore the world, challenge herself, and move outside of her comfort zone. She wanted to go. She was ready to go. And what was I doing? Completely shutting her down, squashing her spirit, and not considering what it was she was looking for, and for what she wanted to accomplish. It wasn’t that she wasn’t ready to go to camp. Or that she was too little. I wasn’t ready to let her go. I wasn’t ready to lose control over the outcome of her experiences for an entire week. At camp, she was going to be able to make decisions for herself, without me. And to be honest? That terrified me.
After she left for school that day, I called Big Cove to see if they had any spaces left in the week that her buddies were going. They had one spot left. John and I had a quick chat about it, and talked about the worst-case scenario – we would get a call from the Camp Director, and need to go pick her up 3 hours away. But you know what? Secretly, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. She was going to be fine. Just fine. In fact, I was beginning to think she might even have fun. When we told her she was allowed to go, she vibrated with happiness. She was so thankful, and couldn’t stop hugging and thanking us. Genuinely happy, and genuinely grateful.
The night before camp, we packed her bag together, crossing off the items that she needed from the campers packing list. We labelled everything. I told her stories about when I had gone to camp, and how much I loved running into the lake, making s’mores, and being with my friends. When I kissed her goodnight that evening, she said, “Mummy, what if I do get homesick?” I gave her a big hug and told her that she might, she might miss us. But when she did, she could look up at the stars, where I would also be looking, and we could send our thoughts into the sky where our love would meet and be together. I tucked a care package in her bag while she was asleep, and crossed my fingers that the letters I had posted would arrive while she was there. The next day, she met up with her friends in downtown Halifax, and practically skipped onto the bus. Off they went.
On the homefront, it was a really nice week. Jack and I spent the entire week together at the family cabin, and I really enjoyed having him to myself. The phone call from the Camp Director, never came. A week later, we all picked her up, in the same place where she had been dropped off. She got off the bus dressed in her brown camp t-shirt, grinning. She had half a dozen embroidery bracelets on and was covered in bug bites. Her blue sandals that John had bought at Value Village were black with dirt. She was filthy. Oh my, the filth. Her hair…it looked like it hadn’t been combed or washed in a month. But she was beaming ear to ear.
We all went out to lunch together and she talked the whole time. Non-stop. She talked about the amazing food – “No offence Mum, it way better than yours.” She told us about all the songs they sang, about swimming, archery, drama, crafts, woods survival skills, and about sleeping on tree roots during their overnight trip (also known as ‘O.T’). She talked about the awesome counsellors, and about the Camp Director who played guitar for them every night. On and on she went. Re-living every moment of it in her mind, and through her voice to us. We just listened and watched.
She was in her element, speaking her truth. In her power. Not only did she have an amazing time, but she had also stuck to her guns, and got through to us. I was so proud of her. But I was also proud of me. I had dropped my parental armour for a moment, and opened up just a little bit. So much of being a parent for me has been about establishing controls for my children. But this lesson, this lesson that I have learnt from one of my very best teachers, my child – was about opening up, letting go, and allowing myself to change, just a little bit. That felt scary at first, but then it felt really good. Our kids grow and adapt to the outside world constantly, it’s about time that I learn this skill as well.
By the end of lunch, Jack, who is 5, said, “Can I go to Camp too Mummy???…”