Well, it happened on Tuesday. I got the call. You know, the one every camp parent dreads. The one where they tell you that your kid is very anxious and homesick and do you think it would be appropriate to talk with them?
Before I launch into anything else here, let me first be clear on two points:
- My daughter has been diagnosed with a smorgasbord of anxiety disorders, and suffers so acutely from them that she often struggles just to go to school every day. So for her to be at camp, for a week, overnight, without me...well, it's just a staggering accomplishment in the first place, phone call or not.
- This kid did not leave camp, nor did she even ask to.
So here's a general overview of how things went down. I was just leaving the house to take my younger daughter to cheerleading practice (yes, you read that right...more on that later), when the phone rang. It was the camp office, explaining that my girl had been feeling anxious all day, and did they think it would help if I talked to her? Now, given that she was there, hearing their end of the convo, I didn't think it would be right to refuse. Can you picture that? "Sorry honey, your mom doesn't want to talk to you...now just run along..."
So we chatted. Or rather, I asked questions and she gave me terse, mostly one-word answers. Obviously the office staff were hovering close by. In fact, if it hadn't been so sad it might have been funny, like a Steve Martin comedy where he's been abducted and manages to con his kidnappers into letting him make a seemingly innocent phone call. He's desperately trying to get a message across to the dope on the other end of the line, but he can't come right out and say, "I've been kidnapped - please come and rescue me!"
The worst part was when I asked if she had made some new friends and she answered, "nope". THAT broke my heart. *sigh* So what's a mom to do?
Well, in that situation, as in so many other parenting scenarios, in flew one hundred per cent by the seat of my pants. I told her it was normal to feel homesick, and that everyone feels homesick when they're away. I reminded her she was half-way through her week, and congratulated her on having made it half-way. I told her how proud of her I was. I reminded her to watch out for the cards and care package I had sent, that should be arriving the next day. I asked her about her favourite activity so far, and reminded her of the other fun activities lined up in the days to come. I told her, again and again, that I love her and that I'm proud of her.
One of the roads she'll walk to independence...
But never, not once, did I ask if she wanted or needed to come home. Nor did I offer to drive out to see her. You see, I know that this camp experience is pivotal for her. It is, in fact, her crucible. Because I know that the only way to overcome anxiety and fear is to face it down, I wasn't going to give her the chance to run away from it. Because I want my child to have a full, normal adolescence full of sleepovers and school trips and band camp, I need her to know that she can spend time away from home - from me - and survive. And not only survive, but hopefully, thrive.
Which, actually, was kind of cool, as I found out later. This morning I received a link to this article about messages to give an anxious camper in my inbox, and I gotta say, reading it was very validating to me as a parent. There's nothing quite so gratifying for my self-esteem as a mom than handling a situation based on instinct, and then finding out later from an expert that I did exactly the right thing. Way to go, me! I rock.
So after a short-ish (and very one-sided) chat, she told me she had to go, and that's the last I've heard of my kid at camp. At this point, although my heart aches for her and I think of her literally every second of every day, I believe that no news is good news. And I know that, even if she's maybe not loving camp in the same way I did at her age, she's accomplished something that I never really had to do until my early forties: she's faced down the biggest fear in her life, and (to borrow from the Bard), screwed her courage to the sticking point.
When I pick her up Friday, I will not be driving home with that same anxious little girl. I'll be taking home an accomplished and brave young woman.