Today marks a milestone in my oldest son’s life: his first “big” camp trip–a day at Sesame Place, followed by a sleepover at our local Y/JCC. My son could not be more excited. He has been talking about this day since June. This morning, as he confidently swung his sleeping bag over his shoulder and headed for the door, he told me that he has been waiting for this day “forever.”
Time is a funny thing in a child’s eyes. I am guessing that this same child does not remember that last summer, as he watched the kids one year older than him head off on this same trip, he said that next year, when it was his turn to go to Sesame Place, there was “no way” he would sleep at the Y.
The change in perspective from one summer to the next epitomizes how much my son has matured over the past year, and how greatly he desires to be independent. I am left simultaneously nostalgic for the days of his infancy, proud of the person he is becoming, and uncertain about how to best parent him during these transition years. How do I nurture his growing independence while keeping him safe in a world that appears to be growing more threatening which each passing day?
I feel lucky to have been raised by parents who, for the most part, were not overly protective. I remember my mother explicitly saying, “as long as I know you are happy, I do not need you right next to me.” (This was clearly evidenced at the sleepaway camp bus stop. As the other parents wiped tears from their eyes, mine could barely contain their delight. I think they had escaped to Atlantic City before our bus even reached the campgrounds.) But far from upsetting me, my parents’ attitude was freeing. I knew that I was not solely responsible for their happiness, and that my choices did not need to be informed by their need to have me nearby.
I desire to instill the same sense of freedom in my children, and to give them the space they need to become their own independent people. I consciously fight against the urge to be a “helicopter mom.” I specifically opt not to call school or camp about seemingly minor incidents. Rather, I encourage my children to try to work things out themselves.
Yet, despite my lofty desire not be on top of my children at all times, a few months ago, when I decided that my son was old enough to go up to our apartment by himself to retrieve a key for the bike room while I waited in the basement, I proceeded to think about all of the things that could go wrong in the three minutes that he was gone: the elevator could get stuck, he wouldn’t be able to reach the key and would try to climb on a chair and fall, etc. Then, when he nonchalantly appeared with key in hand, I rolled my eyes at myself and wondered how I would ever let this child go to the park with his friends to play ball, walk down the block to buy milk, and one day even get in a car to pick up his friends and go do whatever it is that teenage boys do.
I know that to raise healthy, independent human beings, I will need to push aside my anxieties–which are no doubt the product of too much news consumption–and let both of my children do each of these things, and far more.
I guess it may as well start with a trip to Sesame Place and a sleepover at the Y–and a promise to myself not to stalk the camp’s Facebook page for the 32 hours that he will be gone.