The last two weeks have been strange at our house. We scheduled camps so that last week Oldest was away with our church youth group doing charitable work two states away and this week Youngest is away at camp on a lake one state away. (It sounds harsh, I know, Oldest toiling away in the blazing sun while Youngest does archery and goes swimming. But we offered both the chance to go to camp and Oldest chose the mission work. We even said she could go to camp as well, but she was content. Really!) My thoughts on the schedule when we booked it were one-on-one time with each child, really focused attention and also, no bickering for two weeks! Wahoo!!
In both situations we would have very limited contact with either child which is rough in this hyper-connected society. Oldest could bring her phone and she would text us morning and evening but in general phones were discouraged and considered a distraction from the experience so we had very little contact with her other than teen-speak in text, which for those without teenagers right now looks like this: IDK, OK. TTYL XO. She did send her share of emoji’s in her texts that added a little color to the conversation. But as her mom looking for some shred of information about my wandering child, those letters constitute nada.
Thankfully our Youth Group Leader was kind enough to take photos and post them on Facebook nightly so we could get a glimpse of our kids and see what kind of work they were doing, if they were smiling, check if they were clean and all in one piece. It was reassuring, for the most part.
The last night they posted a group photo of all our kids. My eyes singled out my girl, there she was, second row, smiling a real smile. She looked happy. I looked around at the other kids, they all looked good. The chaperones were still smiling. I looked again at Oldest. She was standing with a space of about eight inches between her and the girl next to her. The rest of the girls in the second row stood arm in arm. Oldest was smiling but I had to wonder, had she made any friends amongst these girls.
Oldest is quiet, she does not like a lot of hyperactivity and she generally does stand off to the side so it’s tricky with her. That space may be saying nothing, it could be all in her smile which lit her eyes and her arms wrapped around each other the way she does when she is excited. Good signs, but the space often says to me she is not going to join that group and she wants to say separate. Is it good? Is it bad? I don’t know the answer to that; she’s a tough one to read and she’s in high school. She has to decide if she wants to bridge that gap. She knows I will help her, but I can no longer do these things for her.
For Youngest, the rules are very clear, no electronics of any kind, at all. The idea is for the kids to immerse themselves in nature and invest in the other kids, learn and grow and the electronics are a major distraction. For Youngest, the only way we can communicate is through letters and perhaps a glance of her one of their social media streams. So I start writing letters, I send letters days before she even leaves for camp so that she gets letters as soon as she gets there that let her know we are thinking about her and I scour social media looking for the tiniest piece of her face.
Imagine my surprise when I got an email from one of the camp directors; Youngest had hit a rough spot. She had been in the office the previous night asking to come home, she was home sick. The group dynamics in her cabin were rough for my girl. There was another girl with a “strong personality” and Youngest was having a tough time. (She’s had a year of a tough time with a “strong personality” but that is a post for another time.) Rest assured the counselors and unit leaders had their eye on the situation and they were helping all the girls but it might be helpful if my husband and I were to send her an email to reassure her and remind her of all the great reasons she loves camp.
So I emailed her and I added every bit of pep and enthusiasm I could, hoping to bolster my girl and cheer her up. Then I jumped on social media looking for a photo and lo and behold! There was one of her entire cabin. The girls were dressed silly and there was Youngest, smiling.
But there was a space.
The photo had the girls shoulder to shoulder and arm in arm, there was not a sliver of background to be seen between these girls. Except Youngest. She had about six inches between her and her friend. I can see her arm, is it that she was the last to run to the group and just hadn’t gotten her arm up in time before the photo was snapped or is that space a bigger sign that she is unhappy and miserable just praying mom will ride in to the rescue and bring her home? Youngest is a ham, she loves the stage and she loves the camera (do you have any idea how many selfies an 11 year old can take? My phone is full of blackmail photos for a later date!) So what did the space mean? Did it mean anything?
I have written before about letting our kids fail and yet here I am again, worrying. I know that these experiences are making them into good human beings. I know that for Youngest being home sick is not terminal. She will find the resources necessary to get through this and be the stronger for it. I know that if we were to run up there and get her, we would take away something from her that will be very hard to regain. I know this.
It doesn’t mean I don’t want to gather them both so close to me and fill all those spaces with my arms and my heart and my hugs. It means that I am going to trust them to be the strong, independent girls I hope they will be. It means that I may pray a little harder these next few nights for God to watch my baby, she is my baby, and to hope that she knows to give her troubles to Him while she is away from me. It means that when I am with them, I will be fully present and cherish those moments.
But it also means that I am going to stop looking at social media so much!
PS… So you know, I received a follow up email late yesterday and Youngest had changed her mind. She wanted to stay but she would like another email from me (she loves my writing, people!) and I have every confidence that the counselors are looking out for her and helping her grow through this. Given her experiences this year in school, this is huge! And Oldest? She loved her mission work and she wants to go again next year, four states away!