Welcome to the inaugural post of Wightman Moms!, the new Camp Wightman blog for Moms (and dads and guardians and other interested folks). This entry was written by Jennifer L. Sanborn, a real life Wightman Mom. Enjoy!
A friend e-mailed the other night to say she had registered her daughter for Camp Wightman, but her daughter is suddenly, seriously hesitant. “What’s your advice?” she asked.
Sending my children to camp is both simple and complicated for me, as are most parenting decisions, I suspect. I grew up attending an American Baptist camp, and -- get ready for the “Awwww….” -- I met my husband at camp, in the tradition of my parents who also met while working at camp during their college years. In other words, it feels natural and right to select another Christian camp, Camp Wightman, as a program of choice for my own children. The age and stage for each child’s readiness is another question entirely, and this is where the decision-making becomes complicated.
When my daughter was six going on seven, and we were still new to living in Connecticut, we participated together in Wightman’s “New Friends” program. While I fretted about her still-emerging swimming skills and her ability to make her way along root-laden paths with a flashlight, she thrived at Camp Wightman. As “New Friends” is a shared experience for child and parent, my daughter’s developing comfort and enthusiasm were right before my eyes. At one point in our overnight visit, she scampered ahead of me on the trail, and I had a vision of the delight she would experience when she was on her own. She served herself her own meals, slathered on her own sunscreen, and even toasted her own bagel for the very first time. While our children aren’t coddled at home, and both my husband and I work, I could see we had some work to do on the independence frontier! In being there myself, I could see she was ready, and, just as importantly, I prepared myself to be ready, too. Last year, on her first solo Camp Wightman experience, she returned home with slightly pink shoulders from the water carnival, but it was clear she had eaten, slept (some), washed her hair, and survived the mosquitoes on their overnight.
Being witness to her readiness reminded me of a “Parenting Through Swimming” course my husband and I had taken with our children. A couple, “Miss Colleen and Mr. Bob,” offers parents and their children an opportunity to experience learning to swim together. While for most parents, the swimming part is familiar, the experience of allowing children to experiment in water is not. For the kids, launching into the water for the first time is thrilling for some, worrisome for others. For all of us, the skills we learned were a bit about swimming and a whole lot about letting one another go.
At one point, Mr. Bob scooped my toddler-aged son from my arms, pulling him through the water as he kicked and laughed. My small boy’s only anxious look backward was when he could feel my arms instinctively reaching out to pull him back. There were some parents ready to drop their kids to waiting arms from the diving board the first night. Others, like me, needed to practically glue their arms at their sides to keep from drawing the kids back. Mr. Bob talked me through my anxiety, teaching me to befriend the twisted worry in my gut that is simply energy about change and my lack of control. I felt it then, and I know now I will feel it over and over and over again as I continue to place my children’s care into their own hands, into the hands of trusted others, and into God’s.
What’s my advice? How to decide if a child is ready for camp? How to respond when some will inevitably fret and worry? This is as much a process for you as parent as it is for your child. For me, this is a “feel the fear and do it anyway” experience. Given that Camp Wightman is a Christian camp, I celebrate how I and my children are learning to be part of a universe that is held together by the energy of God’s love, a power far beyond my imagination and, indeed, beyond my control. The releasing of control is a spiritual practice of sorts; this experience of both “going to” and “sending to” camp is enriching for all of us.
What’s your advice?
Thank you, Jennifer, for getting started with a great topic for parents and guardians of Wightman campers. For those wanting more information about dealing with these issues or just preparing for the camp experience in general, please check out our Partnering with Parents article, Missing Home Before You Dropped Them Off?: Resources for Parents.