Friday, June 29, 2012

A mother suffers in silence through camp

From today's Briefing:

I haven’t heard from my son in almost a week.
Cooper is spending seven days on the shores of Possum Kingdom Lake, sleeping on a cot, eating in a mess hall, working on merit badges and, if he hears my voice in his head, occasionally brushing his teeth.
He understandably couldn’t take his cellphone or any other electronic device to Boy Scout camp. This week is about hands-on learning, survival skills and building character — none of which require access to a handheld device.
Back in the olden days — before smartphones and Wi-Fi — lack of communication was completely normal. Drop off on Sunday, pick up on Saturday, hear all about the week on the drive home.
Today we get antsy when a friend doesn’t return a text in a couple of minutes. We reach for our smartphones the moment we hear a tone indicating new email. We check Twitter and Facebook for excruciating details of our friends’ and acquaintances’ lives. (I am guilty of all of these behaviors.)
On Facebook this week I’ve noticed a few friends posting photos of their children away at camp — not Scout camps, but fancy camps where cabins are air-conditioned and activities are purely for fun, not to fulfill merit badge requirements.
These fancy camps update their websites with photos every day, giving moms and dads instant gratification. Why wait for Saturday to learn that your child has been playing flag football or rowing a boat or playing with shaving cream?
In full disclosure, Cooper will attend one of these fancy camps later this summer. During that week I will, without a doubt, look for his freckled face online daily. Perhaps hourly.
This week, though, I can only look at last week’s photos and, mercifully, a solitary image of his group emailed late Wednesday night. And I can pray that he’s safe, healthy and drinking countless liters of water. In other words, I’m relying on faith while separated from my firstborn child, who is living in the wild during the hottest week of the year.
I’m relying on faith in the adult staff and leaders, in a time-tested program, in a campsite that’s been around for 60 years. I’m relying on faith that my son will rely on common sense, will follow rules, will apply sunscreen liberally and bug spray sparingly yet effectively and will exert the independence he’s gradually gained in 11 years.
It’s all a big test of my ability to control my worries and to let go of what I can’t control.
Are there snakes slithering around the campsite? Perhaps, but I can’t eradicate them.
Are there disease-ridden insects eager to pounce on warm-blooded children? Maybe, but I can’t wish them away.
Is the sun beating down on this patch of Texas with cruel intensity? Without a doubt, but I certainly can’t stop it.
So I’m working on not dwelling on all that. I’m focusing on the fun he’s having, the strength he’s building and the confidence he’s gaining.
I’ve been relying on the old-fashioned U.S. Postal Service to deliver hand-written letters in which I am cheerful and encouraging.
My worry-ridden instinct may be to write, “Dear Cooper, I hope you are not lying in a ditch, dehydrated and covered in sun blisters and mosquito bites,” but I edit myself. Instead I write things like, “Dear Cooper, I am so proud of you, and I can’t wait to hear about all of your adventures.”
I mean it. I really am proud that he willingly signs up for a camp without a trace of luxury, that he seeks nourishment from nature, that he’s not afraid of hard work or tough conditions.
And I really can’t wait until noon Saturday, when he’ll begin to describe his tent and meals, challenges and conflicts, accomplishments and triumphs. He’ll spill out some great stories, some new and slightly off-color jokes and perhaps a few tales of peril.
One of his hugs and all of those words will totally compensate for a week of silence.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

years ago I left my son at a science camp in San Marcos. We took him to the dorm room he would share with another boy. I worried that he would feel sad, that other kids might hurt his feelings etc... on and on. He was 9 at the time, he shooed me out and said he was fine. I shed a few tears on the way home. I didn't hear from him till we picked him up a week later. He had a great time and was full of great stories.
(welcome to the special club of parents who survived a week of not talking to their kids ;)
It prepared me for Airforce basic training. Who am I kidding, I still worried, shed some tears and yes....he was fine.