Monday, August 5, 2013

CAMP: A Week of Anxious Parenting


Camp -- It's as much a part of summer as watermelon and swimming.  And while many of us never went to summer camp when we were kids, it seems to be all the rage for different diagnosis-specific groups and special needs organizations.  While there are many terrific benefits to this opportunity for our children (we'll talk about that in another entry), there is also a great deal of parental stress involved in that time apart.

Even typical families experience some of this parental anxiety.  This spring, I took a lengthy trip with my son and his classmates to a German immersion camp for 4 days.  The number of texts and messages I received from other parents who knew I was a chaperone on the trip was astounding!  They were all concerned about our safety and how their child was doing.  I felt like I had been a negligent parent all these years, just assuming that no news during the week away was good news.  In other words, I almost felt like telling these parents that if they hadn't heard from us, then we were all doing quite well.

Yet, I had to recall all of those camp weeks my kids had embarked upon that weren't so great.  There was the year we sent our oldest daughter to a different camp than our son, so that they could each have their own experiences to rave about.  When we delivered our son, he was staying in rough cabins that seemed more like tool sheds.  The kids there were cruel.  He had no desire to return to camp the following year.  Meanwhile, his sister was staying in huge air conditioned cabins, made tons of friends, and had a week she'll never forget.  You can probably guess that our daughter's camp was the destination of choice for all future camps. 

There have been other nerve-racking camp experiences we have encountered over the years.  For instance, there was the one year where, after dropping the kids off on a Sunday, I received a call from the camp first thing Monday morning.  They proceeded to tell me that my son was unable to fall asleep the night before.  When he arrived in the First Aid Cabin in the wee hours, he told the nurse, "My mom always gives me Benadryl to help me fall asleep at night."  WHAT?!  I was shocked that my son would even know to come up with something like that, especially considering I had never used Benadryl for that purpose.  More disturbing still, the camp nurse was willing to administer Benadryl in this fashion if this was truly our evening routine!  Another year, all 3 children went to the same camp together on the same week.  I figured I would finally allow myself the replenishing break I so desperately needed.  But one day into my personal getaway at our trailer, 6 hours away from the kids' camp, I got a call from one of the camp staff.  Our son was distraught over not having the exact needles he liked for infusing and was refusing to cooperate with his IV's.  After a whole host of calls, my husband was able to get the correct needles shipped to the camp via overnight express.   

Yes, there have been traumas, minor injuries and pandemonium involved with our camp weeks over the years.  But I think they only represent the straw that breaks the camel's back.  There really seems to be two core stress-builders that keep every parent on edge during camp week.  The first is the pressure of packing.  Assuring that our children have all of the clothing, toiletries, and incidentals they list is one thing.  And if your child is a slob, like our son, you end up repacking the packing.  But on top of that is the angst of assembling all of the medical supplies that need to accompany our children.  As you can tell from my needle story, one oversight as a parent can make it a miserable week for everyone.

Once we survive that anxiety of packing, we face the second major stress-builder that keeps us on edge -- our children's health while they are miles away from us.  Minor injuries or bumps in the road aren't what make us jump when the phone rings.  It is the thought that we have entrusted our child to the care of a group of medical staff who are not their usual doctors, and the terrifying thought that something major could happen while we are away from them.  What if there's an emergency?  What if they end up in the hospital, miles away from their home with doctors who don't know them? 

While parents like us realize that we must begin creating some space between ourselves and our children with special needs, it almost seems we cannot rest until the week has been completed and our child is back safe in our care.  This week of anxious parenting may be a necessary rite of passage, but we hold our breath through it, hoping for the best.  Does it ever get easier?  Perhaps not.

It is essential to keep in mind, during this week in particular, the wisdom I continually share with my own kids, "If it's big enough to worry about, it's big enough to pray about."  In other words, prayer is critical to the well-being of both you and your camping child.  Pray that the Lord would grow them during this time.  Pray for God's protection and good health for all.  Pray that your child would make new friends.  Pray for the blessing of fun memories at the end of the week.

Once you have laid every concern, request or desire before the Lord, trust that He has your child in the palm of His hand.  He has His angels encamped around your precious child.  You may not be able to be right at your child's side, but He is.  And He loves your son or daughter infinitely more than you ever could.  Resting in this assurance will help bring you peace during that otherwise nervous time apart.

PRAY:  Father God, thank You for the amazing opportunity to send my child to camp.  Help my child to grow in new ways during this time.  Keep my child and everyone involved with the camp safe.  And fill me with the peace that surpasses all understanding while we're apart.

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