A few weeks ago I dropped my son off at camp for a week of recreational adventure. Believe me when I tell you he wasn’t happy about it. For the last two months — from the initial camp deposit to the final payment — he’s gone on and on (and on) about how much he didn’t want to go.
His reasons were plentiful:
I’m not outdoorsy.
I don’t know anybody.
Camping is stupid.
I just don’t want to go.
Somebody got the plague at Yellowstone. You know, THE BLACK DEATH. See, Mom? Camping.
And then there’s Lyme disease, and that’s a really big deal.
I asked my friends if they think it’s mean that you’re making me go. They all said yes.
And I didn’t care because I knew better.
I realize that might sound harsh, but from the time my almost-teen was a wee thing, he’s limited himself. As a renowned homebody and insatiable book worm, he’s long preferred adventure through books instead of real life. For him, it’s always been more than enough. But is it really?
What about the experience of trying new things, meeting new people, and learning a little bit about himself? What about the opportunity to breathe fresh air, experience real wonderment, or connect his senses with places and things he’s only read about? He may not understand the value of these things, but I do.
The night before he left for camp, I sat on his bed and reached out my hand for his. Looking me dead in the eye, he shook his head no, as if to say, no, I will not give you my hand. No, I do not understand. No, I will not accept your reasons.
“Listen,” I said, “You’ve made it clear to me and anyone else who’ll listen just how much you don’t want to go. Even though you’re getting older and your opinions are absolutely worth considering, there will be times when I know in my heart what’s better for you than you do.”
“What I ask is for you to trust me. You won’t always understand my reasons or agree with me, but if you can believe that every decision about you is made with love, maybe things like this won’t have to feel so hard.”
He never agreed or extended his hand, but he allowed me to hug him, which was the best that I could hope for in that moment.
The following day as we arrived to drop him off at camp, a permascowl resided on his face, but he wasn’t mean. He didn’t talk back or question my reasons. He said goodbye with a hug and a flash of a grin. He may have faked the smile, but the hug felt a lot like trust.
Because cell phones weren’t permitted, I worried for the better part of the week. Was he having fun? Did he like the people he was sharing his cabin with? Was he angry? I couldn’t be sure, but I did my best to continually remind myself why I made the decision in the first place.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but on the day we went back to pick him up, he looked different — even his little brother said so. He was standing taller, brighter, and bolder in his skin than I’d ever seen him before. Boasting of new friends and wilderness adventures, he left camp changed in ways even he couldn’t fully understand.
Sure, it felt good to be right. I was glad to learn in this case that I indeed knew better than him. But I’m also sensible enough to realize it won’t always be that way. As my son matures and becomes increasingly self-aware, I’ll be the one stepping outside my comfort zone to trust his instincts.
So maybe parenting is just as simple and complex as trust. My conflicted mind can’t possibly know what’s right or wrong in every situation, but for now I’m trusting my heart to know the difference.More On