|Miles and Evan just arriving at camp.|
I was raised in family that did not go camping nor did my parents send my sisters and I away to "Sleep away" summer camp. And, when I attended summer day camp programs at the YMCA I did not enjoy them. I remember the humidity and overpowering smell of chlorine at the swimming pool and at that time in my life not knowing how to swim, therefore, I did not enjoy the swimming aspect of camp. The horrible orange drink beverage that accompanied every lunch, and getting stung by a bee. So, when Eleanor approached me about sending Miles and Evan to summer camp in Maine for two weeks (This being the longest amount of time Miles and Evan would have ever been away from us) I said, "No." El was anticipating my response, she's a patient woman. She explained why she wanted to send the boys to camp:
1. El loves Maine! El's mother's side of the family is from Maine, she used to visit there often as a child, and she wanted the boys to experience it.
2. El went away to summer camp as a kid and enjoyed those experiences. She felt the time was right for the boys to go to a sleep away camp. For the boys to become more independent, to figure out things on their own without the presence of mom and dad.
3. She found an all sports camp that had a variety of sports such as ice hockey (Which she knew would appeal to Miles and I), where kids could focus on sports that they enjoyed, but also branch out and try new sports.
Then, after she provided me with all her valid points, she showed me a well produced promotional video from the camp and I must admit, I was impressed. I was still against the idea, but we agreed, that El would share the idea with the boys, show them the video, and have them decide. A couple days later, El shared with me that she talked to the boys about camp and showed them the video. I asked, "What did they say?" She replied, "They loved it and they want to go." I replied a little surprised, but not too much, "Really?!" Fortunately, camp was months away, so I was able to start preparing mentally.
Towards the end of the school year, a colleague and I gave a presentation to Grade 12 parents about the transition process: When son/daughters go off to college/university and the changes that will bring to the family. Basically, the presentation was about, "Letting Go." After the presentation, I was speaking with a parent that I knew well and she asked me about my and my family's summer plans. I shared that Miles and Evan were going away to camp for the first time and she she immediately asked, "So, you and your wife will have two weeks to yourselves when the boys are at camp, what are you going to do?" This parent's question really hit me. I wasn't prepared for it, nor had I given it much thought. I told her, "I'm going to do exactly what I told you parents not to do in the presentation, I'm going to hover and be a "Helicopter Parent" around the camp. At this we both laughed, but really, I don't know if El and I had strong ideas on how we were going to spend our time.
As camp approached, El and I had many conversations with the boys about looking after one another, keeping up with their belongings, safety, etc. Then, before I knew it, the day for camp had arrived. As we made the almost hour long drive from El's cousins house to the camp, I was a bundle of emotions. I was excited for the boys, I had my concerns as a parent, and I was a little anxious. But, as soon as we arrived at the camp, my apprehensions were alleviated. Friendly teenage camp counselors descended on our car to greet us and carry the boys' belongings. Then, at check-in, we received a warm welcome from the owners/organizers of the camp and other staff members. The staff then introduced us to other campers who also lived overseas. I really enjoyed the welcoming vibe.
Then, a camp counselor around the age of 18-19 took us on a tour of the camp. She hailed from Montreal and attended the camp as a camper for 5 years, loved the camp so much that she has returned the past two years to work as a counselor. It was apparent that she loved and took great pride in the camp. She shared with us that when she was a camper, her parents would drop her and her siblings off in the parking lot, say goodbye, and take-off and they would stay at the camp for four weeks. She laughed at this memory and said with a huge smile, "I love this camp!"
During the tour, the boys were shown their room/dorms. Miles' roommate was a friendly local kid from Maine. One of Miles' camp counselors is currently a second year student at my alma mater the University of Virginia, so the counselor and I connected over that. Then, we went to Evan's room, he was greeted by his two roommates who were from Beijing, China. The boys played ice hockey and in addition to playing sports at the camp, they were also at the camp to work on their English language skills (The camp also had an English language acquisition component to it). Miles is convinced that he played in a ice hockey tournament against one of the boys in Bangkok (Small world). As El and I were checking the rooms, roommates, and the general condition of the dorms, I got this intense feeling of foreshadowing, in that, this is what dropping the boys off at university is going to be like.
We then ate lunch with the boys in the dining hall and during lunch, while El went to put her tray away, Miles looked at me and said, "Thanks, Dad. Thanks for sending us to camp. This place looks great and I can't wait for camp to start." I looked at Miles and said, "You need to thank, mom. This was her idea. Left up to me, you guys wouldn't be coming to camp." Miles smiled and said, "I will." As soon as El returned, Miles went up to her, gave her a big hug and said, "Thanks, mom!"
We were now back in the parking lot and the time had come for El and I to go. We all hugged, said our goodbyes, and we noticed that the boys never looked back. I looked at El, smiled, and said, "This is a good thing, this is what we want, to raise mature, independent children." The boys walked up a slight incline, engrossed in conversation about their plans for what lay before them that day oblivious to the fact that El and I were looking at them, then one another with, "What to do now?" expressions on our faces and tears in our eyes. We slowly made our way out of the parking lot and en route to our next destination.
-The boys were able to call us once after being at camp a week for ten minutes and they both expressed during the phone call how much they loved camp and that they were having a great time.
-Eleanor in her wisdom knew that Miles and Evan needed to go to camp so that they could grow as young people and have more varied experiences away from their parents. El and I needed the kids to go to camp so that we could grow as parents.
-During this experience, I asked myself, did my apprehension regarding sending the boys to camp stem from my desire to protect my children from the unknown, my own experiences of not enjoying camp, not wanting to "let go" or a combination of the three?
-Lastly, we know we did the right thing in sending the boys to camp when upon being picked up they both talked about returning to camp next year and Evan even asked if he could stay a week longer? Both boys also fell in love with new sports, Evan lacrosse and wake boarding and Miles flag football.