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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Second Month, Second Chances

This mug pretty much sums up how I feel this week.
Actually...to be honest, it's how I feel most of the time.
A few days ago, my daughter returned home after a month at sleepover camp. That may seem like small potatoes to you, since (a) lots of kids are returning from sleepover camp right about now and (b) most kids only go to camp for two weeks or a month. But where I come from, it is totally normal for a kid to go to camp for eight weeks. More specifically, it is totally normal for my kid to go to camp for eight weeks.

Maya started going to camp five years ago, when she was seven years old. Because it was her first year as a camper, she had the option of either coming home after two weeks or staying for the rest of the month. She emphatically and independently chose to stay for the month. When it was time to leave, she sobbed.

The next summer, there was no question that she wanted to stay for the entire summer, which she did. And she continued to do for two more summers. And she loved every second of it. She made us drive her into Detroit, MI to visit camp friends, she has camp posters up in her room, she wears all the camp clothing, and she has Skype playdates on a regular basis with her camp friends.

When I tell people that my daughter is away for two months, they ask me a million variations of Why?:

"Don't you miss her?'

"Doesn't she miss you?"

"Don't you want to spend time with her since you're both off for the summer?"

"Isn't eight weeks just too long?!"

My answers was always some sort of variation of this:

I would tell them (and myself) that it doesn't matter if I miss her, and it doesn't matter that we both have oodles of spare time to spend with each other, her happiness is most important and she's happiest at camp. I would tell them (and myself) that my job as a parent is to raise a happy, independent child. And if I can do that earlier than expected, well then, I must be the best mom ever.

Except for that yesterday, my "happy, independent" young lady was sitting on the floor of her bedroom, crying, stating that the reason she wanted to come home from camp after four weeks instead of eight wasn't because she didn't like camp (she loved it) or because anyone was mean to her (they love her and she loves them) or because of the food (she is the reigning female chicken-wing eating champion). The reason she wanted to come home was simply because she missed me more than she loves camp.

Happy and independent? Not so much...

All month long, we'd been getting letters from her saying that she wasn't sure she wanted to stay for the whole summer. But at the same time, she was also writing that camp was so fun and giving us her laundry list of items to bring up on Visitors' Day. And in all of the pictures, she was smiling from ear to ear.

We were confused. Was she coming home? Or not?

I didn't know what to do. Should I encourage her to stay? Should I just say ok and let her come home? Should I put my foot down and make her stay? Should I should I should I?

According to Dr. Google, unless she was crying all the time, not sleeping, and making herself physically sick, I should make her stay, that overcoming homesickness was an important emotion for kids to manage and solve on their own. That if I "rescue" her, she'll never learn how to soothe herself. Sort of like Ferber-izing her, except it's sleepover camp and not sleep. That made sense.

I explained this theory to my husband and he countered with, "Yes, but those websites are probably for kids going away for one, maybe two weeks. Not an 11-year-old going away for eight weeks. That's a long time. Maybe she just isn't up to staying for that long this year."

That made sense too.  I was more confused than ever.

We decided that when we got up to camp for Visitor's Day/Pickup Day, we'd see what's what. We role played all sorts of scenarios and conversations and tried to come up with a whole bunch of Moneyball-like statistics that always ended in a 50-50 chance.

When we finally got up to camp, all those conversations and statistics proved worthless. Her mind was made up: her bags were (half) packed and she'd made a calendar -complete with colour-coded fonts and stickers- outlining how she'd spend her August at home. With us.

So we packed the rest of her things, said her goodbyes, and made our way back home...all the while questioning if we made the right decision. If she made the right decision. If either of us would regret it.

For the next 72 hours, I asked myself, and her, all those questions, along with a whole bunch more. Was there a reason she was so homesick this year and not that previous four years? Did I do something wrong? Did something happen that she's not telling me about? Is she depressed? Is she anxious? Is she alright?

All that worrying just made things worse for both of us. She wondered out loud why we didn't want her around and that made me feel like an even crappier mom than I already felt. And that made me think. And think and think and think. And this is what I came up with.

Maybe there isn't anything wrong at all. Maybe this is exactly what should be happening. Maybe instead of looking at this month as a disaster, I should look at it as an unexpected gift.

This month is literally the first month since she was born that I haven't been in school or working and she hasn't been in school or camp. For real.

Since she was my second, I never had the same hours-upon-hours of one-on-one time that I had with my son. In the first year of her life, I told myself that it was ok to leave her at home with a babysitter while I took my son to nursery or ran errands because she was a baby and wouldn't remember any of it. When she was one and I returned to school to become a teacher, I rationalized it by telling myself that if I had been in the workforce when she was born, my maternity leave would've been over at that point anyways and that being in school full-time is the same as being at work full-time.

And then I got a job, and then she started school, and then she started camp. And then her brother seemed to need me much more than she did. But it was all ok because she was ok. Or so I though.

And then it was almost 12 years later and I realized that all those "rationalizations" had resulted in me having a daughter that I haven't spent nearly enough time with. And now she was letting me know. In fact, she was shouting it from the rooftops.

There is nothing wrong with my daughter. There is nothing wrong with me. There is nothing wrong with her coming home from camp.

This month is an opportunity to have my little baby girl all to myself, without big brothers, work, school, after-school lessons, early bedtimes, and even earlier, crankier mornings coming between us.
Maya is entering 7th grade in the fall. Junior High. It's just a matter of time until she doesn't want to spend any time with me and home is the last place she wants to be. I am so lucky that my daughter loves me so much that she wanted to leave camp, her favorite place in the world, to spend and entire month alone with me.


This month is an opportunity for me to have a second chance.

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