Over the past few years, as I've taken one kid or another to a summer day camp program, one thing has always interested me: Why I'm always the last parent hanging around at the camp in the morning when dropping the kid(s) off. By that I mean, I see other families pulling up and parent/child going to the meeting area; the parent waves their child off and heads back to the car to leave. The kid seems totally fine with it...the parent seems totally fine with it.
Not so much me. I'm the parent who lingers...the one that, just maybe, the coaches wish was a little like the other parents.
I'm not sure what this is about: Is it that my kid wants me to stay; or is it that I want to stick around just a little longer. I dunno. Sometimes I long to be outta there like most of the other parents...to maximize my time yada yada yada. But I'm stopped (by my own inner debate) every time. I worry in those transition minutes about how well my child is going to fare, whether or not there are any issues that I should anticipate, if there's anything I should say to the coaches to help them understand my child a little better, etc etc.
The first morning of tennis camp this week I did my matchmaking thing between Matthew and one of his tennis coaches. It helped and it worked. Matthew was fine to be left. But I still waited there for the first fifteen minutes just to be sure. When an additional coach was brought in part way through the week, I did the same match-making thing between her and Matthew, as I lingered about, observing. What I found interesting about this was that the next day, while I was hanging around as kids were being dropped off in the morning, the new coach couldn't remember the names of several other kids, but she clearly remembered Matthew when he arrived, and put her arm around his shoulder while greeting him and giving him a genuine smile. Huh, I thought, the match-making really does have an impact. That helped me justify (to myself, anyway!) my tendency to hang around longer.
Yesterday morning it was a dog issue. One of the coaches brought a dog with her to tennis camp. Matthew loves dogs, but I knew full well that he would be a basket case by the end of the day and would refuse to go back the next day if that dog, Golden Retriever size, were even once let off the leash to roam freely. (All of my kids are (overly) cautious when it comes to dogs...especially larger breeds.) So I talked to the coaches about the plan for the dog and received reassurance from them about what was to happen with the dog...then I brought Matthew into the discussion and he was assured of the plan.
I chat with the coaches briefly every day, both before and after the day's camp. I never interfere with their work, or with their involvement with the kids, but usually at the front and back end of camp, they're simply hanging around the entrance as parents come and go to sign their kids in and out. I want to get to know them a bit, and I want them to know me a bit and I want them to know and understand my child just a little better. Furthermore, they have no way of knowing that if things go south during the day, my kid will enter the evening traumatized and I will spend a good chunk of the evening coaxing his anxieties out of him and still have only a small chance of getting him back to camp the next morning.
Today, on the last day of tennis camp, the kids get to walk with their coaches to a nearby Market; they'll eat their lunch there and have a chance to buy some candy at a little candy store on location. I gave Matthew some money this morning and he's to buy his own lunch and candy (something that both excites him and terrifies him a little...we'll see if his learning about money last year withstands the reality test). Matthew asked if I could come to the market for lunch, too, and so after an enthusiastic response from the coaches, I agreed that Seth, Lizzie and I will also go to the Market this afternoon (thought we won't sit with the tennis camp participants!).
Sometimes I wonder at the benefit of sending my kids to occasional summer day camps, but I also realize that these are golden opportunities for them to experience a routine life in a way similar to how most kids spend their every day during the school year: Wake up at a certain time; get ready for the day rather than hang about in PJs; pack a lunch and whatever else needs to be crammed into the backpack; head out to the car by a certain time in order to be on time for the day's start; at the end of the day, deal with any issues from the day; eat dinner; get ready for bed; sleep; next day, same thing.
It's also been good for Matthew to experience that life outside of our home environment isn't perfect either. As much as he still struggles with having siblings, at day camp he's not only with kids that he likes but with the kids that he's not so keen on - kids who lie, hit, call each other names, don't listen, act otherwise inappropriately...it's always a little shocking for him. It seems to help him appreciate just a little more that he's got it pretty good at home - yesterday I heard a coach ask Matthew about whether or not he like h/schooling, and Matthew's enthusiastic response was "H/schooling is totally awesome. I love it!!" Huh...wouldn't have guessed that answer to be forthcoming.
As I head back to camp later today to pick Matthew up one last time, I still don't have a full answer to the question of why I tend to linger in the mornings when dropping him off. It's not like I don't have enough time with my kids - I'm a lucky mama who gets to spend pretty much all of her time with her kids.
But as I wrote that, I may have just come up with an answer to my own question.
Maybe I linger because I don't always know what to do with myself when one or more of my chicks has fled the coop, which is funny because all too often I'm craving a break. But on camp days, I walk back to the van after the drop-off feeling sad and bereft, and I would rather sit in the vehicle all day and watch the ongoings of the camp. I know that says something sad about me as a Mom/person, but that's the truth of it. Though I get tired and stressed and burned out from time to time, I love spending time with my kids and doing stuff with them and just being with them - I like them as people.
I felt the same way at soccer camp a few weeks ago when the boys were both gone all day...I just wanted to sit in the van and watch them all day. I don't know how Seth and Lizzie would feel about sitting in the van for hours watching Matthew play tennis, but maybe if I brought enough snacks...
Camp's over today anyway. Whew.