When my oldest kid, Stephen, was about 13 years old he decided he wanted to go to summer camp. My wife spent several weeks preparing for his week-long sojourn- marking his name in his underwear, buying a new flashlight with several extra batteries, lining his brand new sleeping bag with lice repellant, updating his personal information on the camp website, making certain his inoculations were in order, checking the credentials of the camp nurse.
He did the usual things one would do at summer camp in the deep piney woods of Texas. They shot bows and arrows, swam in a lake, played a few rounds of grab ass, made fun of each other, and accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal savior. Pretty standard Bible Belt camp fare.
My second child, Sophie, went to camp a few years later and we undertook similar preparations. In fact, I wrote about it here. We bought and decorated a new trunk, put together costumes for the various themed events and wrote her letters in advance so she would get some mail. They played water sports and dodge ball, sang campfire songs, and made new friends. Oh and they did the Jesus thing too.
This year my youngest, Hallie, decided to go to camp. Things are a little different with your third.
“Don’t forget I’m going to camp tomorrow” she said.
“You are? How come you didn’t tell me?” I asked.
“Told you 3 times, e-mailed you twice and forwarded about 5 other notices from Camp about forms they needed.”
“Oh. Sorry. I thought that was spam. Are you going to need a ride?” I asked only half kidding.
“I can probably get a ride but I still need a few things. Where’s the sleeping bag?”
My wife hardly looked up from her book.
“I think we gave that away last year. We didn’t think we’d ever need it again. There are some old blankets in the linen closet that you can use.”
“Do we have any sun screen?”
“Ask one of your cabin mates if you can borrow some of theirs. I’ve already been to Walgreens three times this week” said Mary.
Okay we aren’t really that bad but our parenting skills have diminished greatly with our third. I used to impart nuggets of wisdom and encouragement. Stay above the fray. Help those less fortunate. Don’t gossip. Now it’s “go ahead and forge my name to the consent form” or “just rub some whiskey on it.”
She has pretty wide latitude to do as she likes as long as it doesn’t involve me having to bail her out of jail or raise a grandchild.
And I must say she’s a pretty damn good kid.
I read lots of advice (including my own) about how to raise kids. After 22 years of doing it I know only two things for sure.
First there’s no right way or wrong way. Some kids need structure, some don’t. Some are trustworthy, some aren’t.
Second, most kids figure it out with or without us. Sure there are some foul balls but for the most part everyone is going to grow up and find their own way and be fine. They’ll have rough patches, they’ll do stupid stuff, they’ll get knocked on their ass. But who won’t?
I’m not sure what Hallie did at summer camp this week. Even though she was less prepared than her older siblings I doubt she howled at the moon or smoked weed or taught her fellow campers how to forge legal documents. I did give her some parting advice as I dropped her off last week. I told her that if she did happen to talk to Jesus, it’d probably be best to not mention my name.