“You can stay for a bit if you want, Dad… but I’m going to go over there and do the zip line… and Mom probably wants you to get back home.”
These are the words my 12-year-old son spoke to me while I was dropping him off at Big Sandy Camp yesterday. This is his first full week at summer camp and he was ready for it. He was excited, nervous, kind, and confident. He understood that this was a place more for him than it was for me. He was glad I was there… but he was also ready to explore the activities and get to know the scores of other kids his age. He was ready for this rite of passage.
Me? I was a mush of emotions.
At one end of the spectrum, as any parent during a school break in the summer could admit, I was super thrilled to be rid of him for a week. Can I say that? Well, I did.
Look, summer schedules can drive families crazy! It’s so good to send the kids off for a week of excitement and growth… and for parents to take the opportunity to store up energy for the other 51 weeks of the year. I also know that he needs a chance to spread his wings without his parents’ shadow over him… And for Ben to have a chance to do this in an environment that points him to Jesus fills my soul with joy.
But at the other end of my emotional spectrum I was afraid. This is my son. I’ve poured the heart of my heart over this kid… I know his strengths and vulnerabilities, the things that make him laugh and the things that cause him stress, the victories he has celebrated and the challenges he has faced. I know how his skin reacts to dry weather and how he thumps his legs against the wall when he can’t sleep (… good luck on this one, cabin counselors!). As a result I want to protect him and cherish him… but now I’ve handed him over to be nurtured by the direction of others… and I think I’m developing a nervous tic on the left side of my chest over it.
As I got back into the car to begin driving away, Ben called out to me. “Dad, thanks.” He walked over confidently and gave me a full-fledged two-arm squeeze hug. Then he said, “You can go now if you want.”
I’m writing this because I didn’t want to forget what this felt like. Years ago, on Ben’s first day of kindergarten, I felt like throwing up … again out of a mix of fear and elation… and every time I remember that day and feeling that way I actually start feeling that way again. And even if it doesn’t make full rational sense, that nauseous joy is a wonderful feeling for a parent to treasure.
God has entrusted Ben to us… so that we could equip him for life and faith. I pray this week at camp will be a strategic aspect of that plan.