It’s that time of year again. The time we ready our children… and ourselves… for camp. Camp. With all the camp feelings. Because we parents LOVE camp. Or we don’t love camp. We’re eager for camp. Or nervous. Thrilled. Or scared. Or all of the above, really, because we’re human and so very complex and so very complicated, and so are our kids. Human. Complex. Complicated. Which means they’re quiet and they’re LOUD, great at making friends and just terrible at it, enthusiastic and reluctant, brave and afraid, and they have needs. Needs for friendship, needs for love, needs for encouragement… and developmental needs, medical needs, special needs… and needs, you know? Because HUMANS; we’re a needy bunch from every angle.
Earlier this week, I talked to a group of camp counselors as part of their pre-camp training. My job? To give them the parental perspective, to push back the curtain, to tell the truth of what we’re thinking and what we’re feeling – what we’re anticipating and what we’re fearing – when we send our kids into their care. But I didn’t want to go in alone, as though I have the One, Right Parental Perspective, because, of course, I’m only equipped to tell my story, after all. So I asked you what you want our college-aged camp counselors to know.
You replied, as always, with vulnerability and truth and wisdom and grace, and I broke off bits and pieces of your stories like communion bread to pass around the group, and then the communion wine, which was the following reply from Heather Bowie, cut and pasted from a letter she wrote to counselors at a camp for kids with medical issues. Heather writes about her family’s journey and her son, Aiden, who has special needs, at the Team Aiden blog, and I read this letter, word for word, to the counselors:
My child needs magic.
I came to the right place, didn’t I?
All of this bushy tail shaking and Purple Unit’s number one, dancing like you can’t get enough of One Direction and trying to catch the elusive Weepee – it’s just the dose of medicine my child needs.
And it is medicine; you are healers.
The laughter, the songs, the cabin chat listening, the quiet conversation on the way to the boat house – you are filling my child with joy and hope and memories. You have a life giving job.
As do I.
My child is ready for you.
He’s had his chemo and radiation; we placed her catheter and central line just right; beefed him up with Factor; found her therapeutic dose of Depakote; and now he needs camp.
I’m exhausted. This life giving work is draining. I’ve done time in hospitals and school meetings. I’ve done the bedtime routine and medicine routine. I’ve washed my child after playing outside and after vomiting all day. I’ve pounded Ensure with my child and gotten creative with the Keto Diet. I worry, I cry, and man you should hear me advocate.
There’s not much I wouldn’t do for my child.
Like send him to camp…when I’m a bit hesitant. I don’t doubt you. You’re clearly well trained and supported and full of energy and confidence. I love that.
It’s just that I won’t be here and I don’t really know you. I’ve been brave under dire circumstances and gone head to head with powerful people. But you’re coming at me with love and acceptance and joy with a force I’ve rarely seen in my child’s world. It makes me believe in magic…almost. I’ve seen too much pain and experienced too much frustration from failed expectations and felt too much fear to be a full believer.
So forgive me if I call and desperately want you to share one tidbit of my child’s day and reassure me that you really get my child. I’m going to be brave, as brave as my child.
I have big plans this week. I will sleep, spend time with my other children, go on a date with my husband. Simple things, really, but all made more difficult because of my child’s illness. There are things I won’t be doing as well. I won’t be counting meds, I won’t watch what anyone eats, and I won’t listen for seizures. Which reminds me, yes, you can hear my child’s seizures coming. Well, I can because I’ve been listening for years. I don’t really expect you to hear them, but please listen to me when I tell you these little details that may or may not matter. There’s so much I’ll have to let go of this week.
I’m going to be brave, as brave as my child.
Because my child needs camp.
And maybe, just maybe, you’ll fill her so full of magic and sunshine and rainbows, that she’ll bring some home too.
At the end of our time together, I asked the camp counselors if they had anything they want to share with parents. This is what they said.
An Open Letter to Parents From Your Kids’ Camp Counselors
Thank you. Thank you for trusting us with your whole world, because we know that’s what you’ve handed us — your whole world, and your trust along with it, and we’re grateful.
You should know, we think your kids are the coolest. The coolest. With all their quirks and their gifts and their challenges and their unique qualities, we think your kids are just the coolest, and we’re excited to be their friends. For the time we have them, your kids are our life.
We’re here because there’s no place we’d rather be this summer than with your kids. We’re here because we LOVE this. We train for this. We live for this. We work for it. We’re exhausted by it. We’re energized by it. Because we understand your kids are worth it. Every bit. Deeply, deeply worth our time and our interest and our effort… and our prayers and our hopes, too. Even now, even before we’ve met them, in these weeks we use to prepare for their arrival.
So tell us about your kids when you spend those hours filling out the forms. Tell us what you want us to know; the more, the better. The needs, yes. Of course, tell us what your kid needs. And then tell us what she likes, too. What makes him smile. What makes her talk. What lights him up. What tricks and tips we might use to encourage, to help, to protect, and to love. And know this: we’re listening. We’re reading your words. We’re studying what you say. And we’re not judging – not you, not your kid. We’re here to be your partners. Because we want to make a difference for your kids who become our kids for a short time, even if we never get to see what that difference was.
What we most want you to know, though, is this. You parents are our heroes. And your kids are amazing. Like, really, really great. Your children change us. They make us better. They show us the heart of God. And we’re grateful.
Your Kids’ Summer Camp Counselors
Special thanks to Mandy Schmidt and the entire summer staff at Tilikum: Center for Retreats and Outdoor Ministries for welcoming me to your training and especially for this letter.
The letter was compiled by me; the thoughts are the counselors’ own.
“Timber Cabin 3” image credit Poulsen Photo via freedigitalimages.com