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Sleepaway First-Timers: A Tale of Anticipation and Reentry

We had watched the same tinkering video, but it moved Ella, age 7, in a way that it did not move me. I thought it was cool. She thought it was extraordinary. A dominoes in nature, a rock hitting a branch hitting a leaf…

The age range for the one-week tinkering camp was 7-11 so I suggested to Ella that since she was on the young end of the spectrum, she wait until next year. She insisted that she was ready now. Who was I to clip her wings?

In the week before the big day, Ella consoled me. “You will be fine, Mom. It is only a week.” Here she was, parenting me. We dropped her off at a magical place, four hours from home in a breathtaking setting surrounded by lush mountains and endless trees. I had prepared all week for this so while I was a bit teary, I kept it under control.

Goodbye hugs

Goodbye hugs

Then, something unexpected happened.

It was my five-year-old who clung to her big sister and cried “I don’t want you to leave.” The camp director was touched, saying that she had never before seen a sibling cry at drop off, but it was then that I realized how I had failed Ruby. I had been so worried about preparing Ella for camp, and about my own big emotions that I had completely forgotten to emotionally prepare the siblings. I had forgotten that there were other hearts on the line.

Finally, the week without Ella was over. We arrived to pick her up and were shuttled to the pool. Ella and the other campers were at the far end of the pool waiting to row to us in boats that they had made over the course of the week. A couple of campers broke off and ran to their families before running back. Not Ella. She waited for her turn, paddling the last boat to set towards our end.

The arrival

The arrival

When we saw Ella she managed a smile but she was sorry to leave camp and explained without hesitation that she didn’t miss us at all. She had slept under the stars, she had made a lamp for our guest room, she had made new friends and put herself to sleep. She looked different too, and it was with great relief that I finally realized that she hadn’t changed physically, she was just dirty from showering only once all week. I can only handle so much change at once…

The reunion

The reunion

And there was something else; Ella had become more independent in her week away. She learned that she can do most of it on her own, a maturity that is bittersweet. Today I found her clipping her own nails. Slowly, she is chipping away at my job description.

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