Letting Go and Letting Camp

Written By OutdoorAfro

Published on May 28, 2013


Because even seasoned moms like me experience the tension and challenges of getting kids outdoors in a world filled with so many concerns and reasons to be afraid.

Most of you all know I have children – three of them. And each has been involved with some form of camping since they were barely out of my womb. But today marked the last time for a different kind of nature milestone: I sent my third and youngest child Billy to camp on his own for the first time for five whole days!

Starting in the 4th grade at my son’s elementary school, they attend camp with their classmates along with youth from two other schools matched to enhance class and racial diversity. A goal of this particular program is to foster greater empathy and cultural capacity for kids, and help them be better problem solvers in the context of a beautiful nature setting.
Last year, Billy’s older sister went to the same camp, and years ago at the tender age of eight, my teenage son attended our city’s youth camp – both on their own and with positive results.  So I felt like an old hand at this, and was not at all bothered that I missed the parent information night for the trip, thinking, “I got this!”

The night before, Billy took responsibility for his packing list, and organized his bag as I sat from afar dispensing occasional advice. I giggled at the admonition on the camp list not to bring “pagers, Walkmans and radios” as Billy wondered aloud exactly what those items were!
I enjoy driving on field trips as it provides the rare glimpse into the social lives of my children and a pulse on what is most meaningful to them. With three 9-year-old boys in my truck this morning, I was tickled by how the conversation drifted from Calvin and Hobbs to the newest online game sensation to how gross udders are after the boys spotted a swollen milking cow on a farm we passed. Once we hit the oak lined hills of Napa, my son requested I play a favorite Carolina Chocolate Drops track so he could impress his classmates with how well he knew the lyrics, and in no time they were all singing the song together. It was a happy drive, and I was filled with the pride and satisfaction to practice the advice of sending kids to camp, a message I frequently share with others.

After an hour and a half, we arrived at the camp as a small caravan of parent drivers, and were greeted by enthusiastic camp staff. In a matter of minutes, the kids waved goodbye and headed together down the path toward the lodge. But before out of sight, Billy pulled away from the group, ran back, and circled his arms around my waist with his chipper, “Bye mom, I love you!”  Then he skipped off to join the others with his big boy pants belted on.

For a moment, we parents just stood there, looking and feeling awkward by how such a giant milestone felt oddly uneventful. Then I was surprised by the emotions that turned on as I walked to my car. I felt sad and worried; my nose began to tingle in the familiar way it can before tears flow.  I stopped myself, but not before realizing that while I may be an outdoor badass, conservationist, and a lifelong champion of nature engagement, I am first a protective mama who is not immune to the tension and challenges of getting kids outdoors in a world filled with so many concerns and reasons to be afraid.
I also recognized that this was truly the last time I would experience this landmark with one of my children, each growing up so terribly fast. Part of me wanted to savor the pure sweetness of that moment, just a bit longer than was allowed.
As I pulled away from the driveway, I yelled out my window to Ms. Susan, his teacher, “Good Luck!” to which she deftly replied with a smile, “you don’t need luck when you have skills!” which snapped me back into confidence, knowing all would be well, and feeling grateful for Billy’s memorable opportunity and gateway into a lifetime of nature engagement.
For information about how parents can prepare to send kids to camp, visit the American Camp Association’s Camp Parents site:  http://www.campparents.org/