aging ten years in seven days

Want to know how to make your kids look suddenly older? Send them away to camp for a week.

Last week, the whole family piled in the car to take K to her summer camp. This was her second year and there were far fewer nerves involved this time around. In fact, she was very excited to get this week started. She really loves the whole experience. Living in a different world – a world where she gets to hear the sounds of nature outside her window at night. A world where she gets to swim in a lake every day. A world where she spends her days outside, sings songs and gives herself permission to act in a carefree way that just doesn’t happen under the watchful eyes of her parents (or even her regular friends). Camp really takes her away and I’m pleasantly surprised with how much she loves that world.

In her week away she is allowed absolutely no electronic devices: no handheld games, no television, no ipods and no (gulp) cell phones. Her only way of communicating with us is by letter – we got three of them this year. Each one filled with tales of hikes in the woods, stories around the bonfire and sleeping (or not) in her bunk bed in the non-air-conditioned cabins. I think even she would agree that forcing yourself away from your normal distractions is a big part of the appeal.

Without your normal comforts and diversions you’re forced to rely on yourself in a whole new way. When faced with a new challenge – no matter how big or small – with no parent around to push you, you suddenly realize that you have to push yourself. And then you realize that you can push yourself. And then, just maybe, you realize that you like pushing yourself to do something new.

She returned home with a different look in her eye. A new confidence in her step. A changed awareness of her self. I thought I was the only one who noticed but at Mass that evening a friend & former teacher saw her and texted me later to say that K suddenly looked so much older. Honestly, it nearly took my breath away watching her on her first day back. She suddenly seemed like a young woman on the verge of so much independence – not the cautious, observe-first-and-jump-in-later child that I sent away.

I know that the next few years will contain many swings between these two selves – the younger, slightly timid girl vs the self-assured young adult. I wonder if they will all seem to creep up on me so suddenly. I’m almost certain they will all continue to put me in a slight sense of awe.

These children. It doesn’t make me sad to think of them growing up – it makes me happy and proud. That’s what I’m raising them to do, after all – leave. Leave me with a sense of who they really are, a desire to increase their knowledge of all things, an awareness of doing the right thing and living life with all the confidence they can muster.

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