July 28, 2018

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On the eve of another opening day, we repost this blog from last summer written by a current camper parent, Amanda Kuhnert. We can’t wait to welcome you all tomorrow!

Being a camper parent is about letting go. This is what I’m telling myself as I sit at my kitchen counter, wondering, “Well, how is it going?”

We’re halfway through the camp session and haven’t heard a word from either of our kids. Part of me thinks this is a good sign. They must be so engaged in camp life that they’re not feeling the need to write home. After all, I know from my experience as both a staff member and camper parent that letters home aren’t always great indicators of what’s really going on at camp.

The first letters are written on day one or two, when campers are still settling into their villages and getting used to the routine of camp life. They’re usually composed during “easy time,” the quiet hour of the day between morning and afternoon activities when campers are most likely to feel twinges of homesickness. After “hump day,” the midway point of any camp session, letters home either stop coming or change their tone altogether. By then campers know they can do it, and are starting to worry that the final days of camp are passing too quickly.

I remember as a camp coordinator, many years ago, searching down the camper whose parents had just received a heart-wrenching “come get me” letter. When I found him in the woodshop, he was deeply engrossed in a box he’d been making for days. A bright smile flashed across his face as he popped open the lid that he and Papa Richter had just nailed into place. I wondered if I had the right camper. This little guy was doing just fine. Two hours later he was on the Low Ropes Course explaining to his village the best way to get everybody through the porthole.

Knowing that periods of homesickness are par for the course, we parents still wonder and worry. We’re used to being clued in to the activities and moods of our kids from day to day, often from hour to hour. Now we have to sit back and wait for a letter that may or may not arrive, and may or may not tell us a whole heck of a lot.

Camp may not have changed much over the years, but we parents are programmed differently from the parents who came before us. We’re deeply involved in our children’s lives. We’re there, either physically or virtually, for every high-point and low-point of their days. We celebrate their successes and help them navigate the tough times. How will they ever do it without us?

As I look out the kitchen window waiting for the mail carrier to arrive, I think, “Ahhh … This is why camp is so good for us —all of us.” My children need to know that they can do it without me. In the safe and empowering waters of Merrowvista, they’re learning how to steer their own ship. And I, as a parent, have to let go of the ship’s wheel (and any false hopes of having radio contact with the captain) and believe in my “young sailors” and the experienced crew I’ve entrusted them with.

I think of all of the amazing people at Merrowvista who surround our children, supporting them as they become more independent. These educators and leaders are deeply attuned to what’s going on with each camper and within the group. They don’t let things slide. If a child is struggling, they work together to figure out the best way to support that camper. No child gets left behind at camp. In fact, they’re all encouraged, in a hundred different ways, to rise up and be the best of who they are. And, at the end of the day, campers feel a tremendous sense of pride, knowing that they “did it” without mom and dad.

It’s good for my children to have adventures without me. To encounter challenges and search for solutions on their own, or with the guidance of another caring adult (who is not me). To have stories and memories that are uniquely theirs — moments shared with special friends in their own treasured space in the world.

Other parents here at home ask me how I can “let my kids go” for three weeks of the summer. And the best way I can articulate how I feel about sending my children to Merrowvista is to say, “I feel like I’ve just given them a big vitamin.” I know that all of the experiences at camp — large and small, challenging and rewarding — will help them grow in amazing ways. In ways they couldn’t grow at home.

The mailbox sits empty for another day, and I have to do what comes most unnatural to me as a parent: I must “let go” and trust in what I know about the camp experience.

I put on my gardening gloves and head down to the veggie patch. The carrots and kale need thinning. In order for the plant to thrive, the roots and foliage must have room to spread out. Ah ha. Don’t we all?

As I begin to make space in a row of dwarf-size kale plants, I think of camp and the space it allows for my children to grow. And with a steady stream of gardening metaphors coming to mind (because I do love a good metaphor), I dig into the earth knowing that the soil at Merrowvista, for any young “seedling,” is about as nutrient-rich as it gets.

~ Amanda Kuhnert

Amanda is a former Merrowvista staff member and current camper parent. To read more from Amanda, visit her blog at www.ourmerryway.com.