This year, I sent my babies to camp for the first time. Real camp. Stay the night camp. Rely on counselors to be nice people with good training camp. Trust the nurse to take care of illnesses and injuries camp. Spend days and days hoping they're having a good time and not hating life camp.
Josh and I never got to go to camp when we were kids and hoped to be able to provide that for the girls. They have been pretty involved in Girl Scouts and as we've gotten to know our service unit and council, girl scout camp started to seem like a pretty good idea. We attended open house at the camp to see what it was like and to ask questions about how it was run and we liked what we saw. We attended an orientation to get more information about different programs and options. We checked out the schedule and prices (much more affordable than other camps).
In the end, it was decided that both the big girls would go for a half session. Just 3 nights, and they would be together the whole time. Then, a few weeks later, Sierra would go by herself for a full, 6 night, session. I was quite worried about how Sedona would handle this. We sent Sierra with Sedona specifically so Sedona would be okay. She gets homesick pretty quickly and doesn't really like to be away from us yet. A year ago she even cried when I dropped her off for 3 hours of summer school.
To add to the concern, their migraines are triggered by stress (both good and bad stress), so the combination of exciting new activities and feeling homesick at night is a perfect storm for migraines.
At the end of the first session, we picked them up to find that Sedona had been totally fine. No migraines, she wasn't upset about anything, said she liked it and wanted to go back for a full week next year. Sierra, on the other hand, had battled migraines the entire time, been stung by a scorpion and was weepy from the minute we picked her up. Best laid schemes and all that...life just never goes quite as planned. She had fun, loved her counselors and the nurse and said she wanted to go back, but she was very worried and upset about going back alone later in the summer.
In an effort to help her process the experience, we made a list of all the good things that had happened at camp (a rather lengthy list) and all the bad things that had happened (a very short list) and then brainstormed ways to mitigate those bad things for her next session. We changed up her migraine preventative and got permission to leave her treatment meds with her counselor instead of the nurse so it was always close by (just knowing this helped decrease her stress). We bought her a UV flashlight so she could check for scorpions around her belongings. We made some changes in the letters we sent her (she wanted short and sweet funny letters, nothing serious to remind her of home). We talked about how she did not have to go back if she didn't want to.
When the day to return came, she was excited and eager to go back to camp and see all the counselors again. She did fine on the drive, through check-in, and setting up her bunk. Then it was time for us to leave. To say the least, she was very upset. Lots of tears were shed and lots of hugs were had. I repeatedly asked her if she wanted to go home and she insisted she didn't, she just didn't want ME to go home either. We took some time to ourselves to talk things over, then I helped her get to know her new counselor, then I gently extracted myself and we left her there. I felt SO BAD. I didn't know if I was doing the right thing. I was more than a little tempted to run back and rescue her. Part of me thought this was probably good for her, and another part of me thought I was abandoning her. Poor, sweet Sedona finally piped up with, "Momma. She will be fine. Once they go for their swim test she'll be doing so much fun stuff she'll probably having tummy aches from being so EXCITED, not from being sad. It might be hard tonight, then she'll be okay". So my 7 year old should not have to comfort me, but this was reassuring since she had already been to camp herself and knew what she was talking about.
I fretted all week long. Every time I thought about her, I got a little rush of anxiety wondering if I had done the right thing and if she was miserable. I stalked my online camp account for pictures of her.
We returned to the camp the night before pick-up with plans to camp in a nearby park (it's a pretty long drive from here and pick-up is at 10am, so we thought we'd get more sleep that way). That turned into a disaster. We arrived just before dark, quickly set up the tent and got the kids settled. Sedona was being hyper and complaining a lot so when she basically spazzed out and said she was itchy everywhere we told her to knock it off and go to sleep. This continued in some form or fashion for the next several hours. I was swatting what I thought were gnats off of me in the night until somewhere around 3am when I was bitten by something. No one had gotten any sleep at this point, so I sat up, exasperated, turned on a light and said, "do we have bugs in here?!" Yes, yes we did. An ant infestation. Apparently it started on Sedona's side of the tent. She had 18 bites on her all together, 5 of which were on her face. She's also somewhat allergic to bug bites. Her upper lip, one eye, and both ears were severely swelled from bites. We gave her benadryl, got the girls up and ant free and into the car, then set to work getting all of the ants out of the tent. Aside from the minor medical emergency, it was a little bit funny. I did get to see a shooting star while we battled the wildlife and Josh pointed out the milky way. We're a good team when plans go awry. Sedona wasn't getting worse, but the swelling also wasn't getting better, so we looked up the nearest hospital just to be safe. It was 30 minutes away and we just weren't comfortable being that far away with the degree of facial swelling going on, so we packed up everything and drove to the hospital, so we'd be close just in case. We tried to get as comfortable as we could and catch an hour or so of sleep in the ER parking lot. I was really feeling the "mom of the year" vibes at this point and couldn't manage to sleep. Instead, I kept checking Sedona, watched a hummingbird find breakfast and watched the sunrise. Sedona was finally showing improvement, but now we were all WAY more sleep deprived than if we'd just stayed home and we had time to kill because we couldn't pick Sierra up early. We hung out at Starbucks for a while getting caffeinated and eating donuts, then roamed Whole Foods for a little bit, then headed back to camp.
The whole time we were waiting in line, I was seriously worried Sierra was going to get in the car and accuse me of abandoning her. When we got to her though, we pretty much had to drag her away! She was giving hugs to all the girls in her group and putting off leaving. She was nothing but smiles and said she had so much more fun than the first time and the only rough part was drop-off! She didn't even really have migraine trouble! (she didn't have to take her imitrex at all this time). She told us all about everything she had done and was really proud of herself for being named the fire keeper since she already knew about campfire safety and starting a fire. She also told us about building a cardboard and duct tape boat that they got to test in the pool (her group's won), going to the archery range, and playing quidditch. She liked the food better this time and felt like the program she was in this time was a better fit for her than the first one she went to (different groups do different things). She's excited to go back next year and glad she stayed.
I almost cried I was so relieved. All week long I had wondered if I should have "trusted my instincts" and not left her. I've come to realize trusting my instincts does not mean never doing anything uncomfortable. I knew she was in a safe place where she would be well taken care of, which is an important part of the equation. What I was really worried about was that she would be anxious and uncomfortable. Sometimes, when you know they're ready to fly, you have to suck it up and give them a little nudge out of the nest though.