Thursday, June 09, 2005

A Milestone: Sleepaway Camp

by Anne Zelenka
My nine-year-old Henry went on an overnight camping trip with his Montessori class yesterday. He's Mr. Anxious but I think I was much more worked up than he was. He has sleeping problems verging on OCD-like symptoms and I didn't know just what might happen in a different environment. But he was cheery if tired when I picked him up at school today. When asked how it went, he said "great!" and told me about the s'mores, about picking out a cabin with his buddies, and about noticing that his toe was all bloody at one point. He hadn't noticed when he injured it, so he must have been having a good time. He took his stuffed animals Whitey, a bunny, and Blackie, a little scottie dog, with him and didn't report any problems. That's something I love about his school.

My first experience at sleep away camp stands out in my mind, and not because it was pleasant. I went to a girl scout camp with my troop when I was maybe eight. I think I must have been eight, because at nine my parents sent me off to a month-long camp in Estes Park, Colorado. What a nightmare for an introverted and bookish child. Okay, I did enjoy daily snacks and I liked best of all to stay in camp--we were known as "in-camp weenies" if we signed up for arts and crafts, archery, riflery or other non-hiking, non-horseback riding activities. But the cliques and the end-of-session "citizenship" (read: popularity) awards made me feel pathetic and alone. Now that I'm thirty-seven and in charge of my own social life, I don't put myself in social situations that engender such feelings any more.

Oh, but back to my first time at sleepaway camp. We went for a week and my tent included a girl who was retarded. That's all I remember, the mentally retarded girl. Now it has much more resonance, knowing, as I do, parents who struggle with their special needs children. But then it just felt like some horror visited on me, because she leapt around on our cots and grabbed and hugged us when we least expected it. I'm an introvert. PLEASE DON'T TOUCH ME UNLESS YOU KNOW ME VERY WELL! Perhaps she would now be diagnosed as autistic--Henry suffered the attentions of an autistic boy who had been mainstreamed into his elementary class last year before we moved.

I am so relieved Henry's experience at sleepaway camp was positive.

Diana wrote about measuring the advancement of time in different ways in a lovely essay that you should go read right now. And then you can ponder too how life repeats itself, but not exactly, and we never know exactly what will happen to our children, but we know that through their lives we can understand our own better. Because having children is just a way to learn about ourselves right? Yeah, I know I shouldn't be using them just as instruments for my own betterment. But sometimes that's the thing I like best about being a mother.


Blogger dgm said...

anne, congratulations! i can't imagine how i will endure my daughter's first night away from home on a group outing. i know the time will come (she's almost 7), but i'm not ready for it!

as for children making us better people, i, too, find that is one of the great challenges and rewards of motherhood. i think having kids forces me to deal with residual issues from my own childhood, and to even think about my parents as kids, and what parenting examples my grandparents set for them that trickled down to them as parents. (does that make sense?) i try to be remember what it felt like to be a kid, when parents got to call all the shots, and to be empathetic and patient with my own kids' quest for their independence. it's tough! mostly what i love about parenting is when i get to share laughs with the kids and my husband.

6:52 AM  
Blogger Marjorie said...

I don't see you as using your children as instruments for your own betterment any more than they are using you!

What I find especially hard about learning about myself through my children is that my oldest is, basically, me. She can be wonderful, but she can be a real witch sometimes and my DH's smirks and smiles underscore that it ain't always easy living with me.

5:01 AM  

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