My daughter is heading off to sleep away camp for the first time on Sunday. She's anxious and I am too. Do I show her my anxiety? If she calls me or emails me (yes, they have email at camp now) and wants me to come get her, do I get her? Do I affirm she's ready for this when I have NO CLUE IF I AM READY FOR THIS? Tell me please.

Dear No Clue If I Am Ready For This

Allow me to ask you a broader question than if you are ready for summer camp. (But really, it’s not YOU that needs to be ready, and we’ll get back to this in a minute.) 

What in life are we ever really, truly ready for? Are we ever ready to for any of the unexpected adventures of our lives, even if they were planned for in advance, like attending summer camp? 

Summer camp is the container that will hold a million moments, currently each unknown. Summer camp is merely the location on which new friendships will be made, s’mores will be shared, and mosquito bites will be inflicted. How can anyone prepare to meet their newest best friend, or prepare for the taste explosion of a s’more, or prepare for the mosquito that will bite at exactly 7:52 at night? Even if any of those things are expected, they’ll never happen exactly as planned. This probably isn’t calming you down, but hang on. And allow me to ask a few more questions, the answers to which I am sure you have (both) survived. 

Were you ready for your child to have that disgusting stomach flu three winters ago? Were you ready for her to skin her knee last summer after she fell off her bike after she popped a wheelie in the driveway? Were you ready for her to fail the spelling test and have that inexperienced teacher announce it to the entire second-grade class? No, you weren’t, because you didn’t anticipate these things that hurt to happen. The anticipation of things is what sets us up for fabulousness or fear. How might you look forward to your daughter’s experience at summer camp and anticipate the laughter and joy of new friends and campfire treats, with just a few mosquito bites on the side? Being a seasoned parent, you are aware of all the what-if’s, which is excellent because preparing for the what-if’s keep our children safe. Let’s look at the what-if’s she’s already been through and how she’s grown. After the flu she may now wash her hands religiously, that skinned knee may have her wearing kneepads when she’s stunt riding her bike, and perhaps she studies for the spelling test with a touch more determination. In other words, she learned something good from the bad. She grew because she is living. That’s what we all do. 

You ask if you should show her your anxiety. Two questions for you: How would that serve her? What would you be looking for from her after you give her the weight of that emotion? If she shares her anxiety with you, you can reassure her and let her know you understand and you are wondering what the house will be like without her doing all the special things she’s does and how you’ll have to sing solo in the car to your favorite songs on the radio. Let her know if she can bravely do new things that it gives you the courage to do new things (like singing solo) too. Things are generally better with a friend. If she knows you are being brave, it may enable her to be brave, should she not be too busy eating s’mores with her new best friends.  

Next up: If she calls or emails you wanting to come home, should you allow it? What if you answer this email when it lands in your inbox? Until this happens, it is a problem that doesn’t exist. What if you flip this question from fear to fabulousness and ask what if she comes home and loves camp so much she begs to attend for the rest of the summer and all winter you’ll hear her nagging to be enrolled for next summer? It could happen. But, if it doesn’t and your inbox does end up with her tear-stained email begging you to airlift her out of there, what might you be able to do now to preempt it? Her instinct was to go to camp. I’ll hazard the guess she was downright excited to attend camp. But now, camp is no longer an abstract idea. Camp is real. Her bags are being packed. Think of our wanting anything new we want in our lives, for example getting in better shape. The idea of getting fit is one thing. Heck, the shopping for cute workout wear can even be fun. But the reality of waking up early and lacing up the new sneakers to hit the jogging trail generally feels different than the abstract vision you had the week prior. Sometimes our desire to stay safely in our routine dims the excitement of what we really want. Consider heading off to summer camp the chance to gift your daughter the skill of what I call “Excitement Anchoring”. Excitement Anchoring is when we intentionally hold onto our first excited inclinations and move through fears of the unknown and anchor ourselves to the joy-filled feeling that enabled us to give an emphatic YES! to the new thing in front of us. Dropping a proverbial anchor of excitement allows us to float toward the anxiety of the new and unknown while pulling us back to what we know, deep down, (pun intended) we want. 

Let’s circle back to who needs to be ready to attend camp. This answer may sting a bit like a mosquito bite, but I think you see it coming. And as a parent myself, I bite you with love. Your daughter needs to be ready, not you. (Here, have some bug bite ointment.) I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have had the guts to send my kids to school unless it was mandated by the state (coupled with my having zero desire to homeschool). The love you have for your child is what simultaneously keeps them protected from harm and makes them ready for each new stage of their life. It’s a both/and way of loving. We love our children and hold them close in order for them to one day to be independent people. 

This summer, for a week at camp, your child gets to try on what it’s like to be an independent person. She’ll spend a week exchanging her parents, siblings, and cozy bed for time spent surrounded by her peers, cooler-than-cool older camp councilors, outdoor relay races, and giggling herself to sleep in a not-so-comfy bunk bed. When the week is finished, she’ll come back a little bit new, and you’ll hug her a little bit tighter, and hear of how she’s grown. Maybe celebrate your reunion with a visit to the local ice cream shop and be sure to get a scoop for yourself, because you will have grown too.