I once sent my youngest to what she now calls Girl Scout prison camp. We’d just moved to Arkansas, and I wanted the girls to continue their great experiences from their camp in Minnesota. I had such fond memories of camp as a girl myself, of crafts and hiking and canoeing and even chores. It was an early taste of independence.
I found a Girl Scout camp in the River Valley, near Booneville (yes, that’s a real place) and signed her up. We drove the two and a half hours south in mid-July, to a place where the trees outnumber everything except the mosquitoes. After waiting in numerous lines in the sweltering heat to get her checked in, we lugged her gear the half mile to her cabin. Except calling it a cabin was generous. Unlike the air-conditioned cabins with bunk beds back in Minnesota, this was a wooden platform with six canvas cots and a canvas tent covering. Given the mid-day heat, all of the tent sides were rolled up…her new home for the next five days was basically the woods. As she chose a cot to put her stuff on, I saw it…and quietly steered her to another cot which didn’t have a six-inch stick bug on it. Luckily she didn’t see it…they were everywhere. I began nervously playing out in my head what I would do if she decided she wouldn’t stay when it was time for me to leave. That didn’t happen, although part of me wanted to give her the out. I didn’t. Fifteen minutes later, I walked away from my deeply introverted daughter, leaving her in the middle of the oppressively hot woods with strangers. I’ll never know who that was harder on.
When I picked her up nearly a week later, she was none the worse for wear, though she was grateful for air conditioning. She had stories of finding a scorpion and a baby tarantula and eating camp food and singing songs. It was the tiny step toward independence that I’d hoped for. The stories and the sarcastic name she’s given the experience are symbols of that independence, keeping it alive for her and giving her the sense of confidence that her independence has earned. So I encourage her stories and let her harass me for leaving her there. I’ll do it again and again, though it will always be just as hard as it was then. It’s what a mother does.
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” –Hermann Hesse