Wednesday, September 13, 2017

To the parent of a first time camper

Dear Parent of child going off to camp for the first time,

I recently went through the first of my children going to camp. It was a somewhat surreal experience that I feel I ought to share. In a grand scheme of things, it is in preparation for the mother of all camps, 8 years from now for my eldest boy child.

We knew that it was coming but we didn't think it would be all that bad. After all, she has had sleepovers before.

But everyone did miss her and everyone felt her absence. She's home now though and we're back to regular programming.

There was a sobby (I am assured they were tears of joy) reunion but all is good in my world now and I can now objectively think back to the last three days.

So here's what I've learnt.

1. You will want your child to call home. Don't.
Packrat went to the briefing and reported that teachers were inundated with questions about whether their children could bring air-mattresses, sleeping bags, portable diffusers. They faced disgruntled parents when they informed them that the children would not have access to their mobile phones and that no, they could not queue up to use the coin phone either.

This caused much distress and I think this was where the camp experience differed from a sleepover. A sleepover would have involved the constant exchange between the parents on what funny things the kids were up to and this sometimes included photographs and videos. This time however, there was a complete cut off from our children.

But, now that she's home and she's told me what went on at camp, I think the teachers were indeed wise. After all, they have done this year in, year out.

She told me that she went to the sick bay on the first day. It was a bad headache, despite drinking gallons of water. And she stayed there for 3 hours, napping before she felt better and more human. It was at that point, that I realised that, had she been able to call home or get in touch with me, she would have told me about being in the sick bay, possibly been weepy about it and I would have immediately asked if she needed to come home. There would have been a possibility that she would have said yes and then, the camp would have been a slightly extended version of a day camp.

Because I didn't know, because she had no idea that coming home would have been an option, she got  over herself and her headache and went back out to play.

So, the radio silence was great. It prevented homesick children from indulging in their homesickness and anxious parents from finding reasons to bring said child home early. I suppose if she really were unwell, they would have called me. And headaches, in their book, weren't serious enough to warrant a potentially heart dropping phone call for me to receive.

2. You will want to spy on your child. (See Above)

With 240 ten year olds away from their parents for the first time, there were bound to be anxious parents. And because Singapore is small enough and the camp location was made known to the parents, some showed up, testing their prowess at stealth hunting and paparazzi level stalking. There were also parents who worried that their children needed creature comforts and attempted to show up under the guise of delivering them or simply delivering pizza. Whatever was necessary to gain access to the child. 

I asked her if she saw parents hiding in the bushes or pretending to be trees. After she finished laughing, she looked at me in all seriousness and asked if I had been one of those nosy parents. I said no. She said good. I asked her why. She said it would have been an interference on the part of the parents. She said it would have been embarrassing (She tried to soften the blow by saying she would have been happy to see me but even then...). And she said it was only for 3 days and if she could miss me and didn't beg her teachers to send her home and didn't run away from camp to come find me, I didn't need to stalk and spy on them. 

Basically, she was telling me, in her 10 year old way that she needed this space to grow up. 

Wise one, my first born. 

3. You will underestimate your child. (Ditto the previous point)

Admittedly, I worried. I worried that she wouldn't be able to sleep in a sleeping bag. When I found out that someone snuck in a pillow (I didn't even think of getting her to pack beyond her packing list), I found myself wondering if she could sleep without a pillow. I found many other little things to wonder and worry about. Above all, I worried that she would not have a good time and she would be miserable.

Much as I hate to admit it, Packrat and the teachers were right. She had been fine and she came home brimming with excitement of all her achievements. She told me she abseiled down 7 storeys. She told me that she rolled her jacket into bundle and used it as a pillow. She slept like a baby. She, whose extent of cooking at home was to make a grilled cheese sandwich, was able to cook up her own meals on an open flame. She managed to also successfully put drops into her eyes like we taught her to at home. 

In short, not only did she survive camp, she thrived. 

So, my advice? Cede control, trust the school and child. 

And you'll get all the good bits. You'll get to hear the stories through triumphant rose-tinted glasses, you get to stand anxiously at the school gates waiting for that first glimpse of her and you get to get all the air squeezed out of you when she throws her arms around you and gives you a hug big enough to make up for all the time she was away.

I promise you. It'll be hard to do all these things. But it'll be worth it.

From a parent who survived her child being away at camp.


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