Happy camper

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My children attend a lovely school which requires that we attend camp each fall. While intellectually I see the point of such an experience, as one mother so eloquently put it, I’m a cynical camper. I do not like moving to the center of a large group circle for any real reason even if it is only to identify that I am wearing stripes instead of polka dots. I prefer to stand on the sidelines and melt into the edges of a gathering. I was never a stage person or one to play games. I didn’t even like group work when I was in high school. Even the mention of the term sent me reeling down the path of OhGodPleaseNO.

I am extremely social. Probably to a fault. I love people, I love learning what makes them tick. But at my core I am an introvert. Put me in a situation where I have to go out on a limb in front of a large group of people, some of whom I barely know, and I’d rather take a stick in the eye. I’m sure this has everything to do with feeling vulnerable and how I never got cozy with that particular brand of vulnerability but, holy hell, camp nearly kills me.

There are lots of group activities at camp. Lots of being uncomfortable in the name of getting to know one another. Lots of opportunities for me to want to run and cover, duck my head in the sand and come up when it is all over.

The first year I went, Eliza was in kindergarten. I was so ill at ease that trip that I nearly had an anxiety attack. I never knew where I was supposed to be at any given time, I never seemed to have on the right clothes at the right moment. I could never find my water bottle. Last year, I made Seth go. He is, after all, a seasoned camper. He went to summer camp each year for like a month and has nothing but fond memories of horseback riding on the California coast. So, perfect, I thought. He’s one of those people. He’ll be fine. And he was. I was too, far, far away from all that bonding.

This year schedules conspired against me and it looked as though I was going to be the accompanying parent at camp. I took a few deep breaths, resigned to kayak in my jeans so as not to show up in a bathing suit during dinner this time and made sure my water bottle was in sight at all times. I unloaded sleeping bags and found batteries for headlamps. I helped kindergartners paint trees on boards and watched in pure delight as Lucille unwrapped a beanie baby given to her by her kindergarten teacher. This teacher never fails to bring magic with her wherever she goes and she did not disappoint my five-year-old who has her heart wide and open to this new experience.

I tried to take a cue from Lucille and give in just a little to all that was happening around me. She was, along with her sister, the reason I was there, even if uncomfortably. Sometimes we have to stretch, I thought. I was stretching. Swear.

Somewhere along the way, I realized I was having a good time. I looked around at the parents who there, some of whom I’d known forever, some I’d just met and realized that I have a high level of trust with these people. I knew they had my back and my kids’ best interest in mind. They were my eyes and ears when I was supposed to be in two places with two different kiddos at once. They were the ones who checked on Eliza when she took a tether ball to the nose and the ones who helped Lucille fill her treasure bowl with sea glass. With both kids tucked into activities in the late afternoon, I even participated in a few parent initiatives, one which involved wandering blindfolded toward the beat of a drum. I got there eventually and the whole experience didn’t kill me. This, I suppose, is the point.

By the time the evening rolled around the kindergartners took a canoe trip across the lake. A few little ones didn’t see the boats launching so a couple other parents and I rowed them across to catch up with their class. Eliza went along in her own kayak. She paddled there and, realizing she had to paddle back, started whining. I put my boat close to hers and gave her the pep talk I’d been giving myself since we got to camp.

“Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do, things we think we can’t do,” I said. “You can do this. The shore is closer with every stroke.”

She pulled it together and paddled her way back to shore. Just shy of the beach, when she knew she was going to make it, she started talking about how far she’d come.

“I went all the way over to that owl on the other bank mama,” she said. “Can you believe I paddled all the way there and all the way back?”

Yeah, baby, I can believe it, I thought. Because you are one amazing kid and I am your mama and we are here, together, bobbing on waves, large and small, moving forward one stroke at a time.

Fall in love with Jennifer Savage every Monday on Mamalode. Click here to read more of her stories.