Homesick, but Happy!
by Francie Campbell, Trustee
It was to be his first full season at Birch Rock. Seven whole weeks of camp in the summer of 2003. But it nearly ended before it started. My 10-year- old son Harry—losing his fight to stay composed—had blurted out, “I can’t do it, Mom.”
Minutes before, we had pulled up in front of the Lodge and a scrum of counselors rushed to our car with hellos and offers to carry Harry’s trunk. I greeted the guys with delight, but then caught sight of Harry, seemingly paralyzed with fear. I got my arm around him and steered him off to a quiet spot in the woods. His slender body quaking and tears sliding down his cheeks, Harry told me he had made a mistake and could not stay.
This was a tough, tough moment for me. What kind of mom was I to put my son through this? My confident, happy kid was now overwhelmed with anxiety. I had driven him hundreds of miles from home to wreck his summer, perhaps his very childhood! I offered words of comfort to Harry but got teary-eyed as well, blaming myself for the sad mess.
Our mother-son meltdown was quickly spotted by Camp Director Mike Mattson, and he joined us in the grove. Calm and knowing, Mike got on his walkie-talkie to summon the perfect man to talk with Harry. Campcraft guru Ryan came bounding over and asked if he and Harry could have a few words, just the two of them.
Next thing I knew, Harry was back, telling me he was okay (!) and ready for camp. And he truly was. What had Ryan done to turn things around? I don’t think he dwelt on homesickness and anxiety that day. With his charisma and keen understanding of Harry from the prior summer, Ryan undoubtedly got
Harry excited about the cool Campcraft activities they were going to do together.Harry lived in Cabin II that season with veteran Birch Rocker Mike Wilson as cabin counselor. In his end-of-summer Camper Evaluation Mike wrote directly to young Harry: “You are pointed toward integrity, and integrity will shoot you to the moon (you’ll learn wonderful things and appreciate beauty and know how to care for people).” This is uncommon stuff in our troubled world, but very much the Birch Rock way. What I had a sense of, and came to believe that season long ago, is that Birch Rock provides the best possible setting for a boy to mature. The hard work of becoming independent, responsible, and attentive to the needs of others—this is what the superb Birch Rock community guided my son through.
Homesickness strikes just about every kid, and makes him feel bad, body and spirit. But Birch Rock’s essential job is to help him work it out. Nothing about camp is easy. All the new people, less-than-luxurious cabins (with a spider or two), unfamiliar food, exhausting wilderness hikes, the sometimes freezing lake! Present a boy with challenges like these, and chances are he’s going to feel pretty good about himself for sticking the course, and even enjoy himself along the way.
I needed to learn a parenting lesson (or half a dozen). Letting my son go to camp was one thing; not being able to hover over him and protect him from every conceivable problem was another. Little by little I began to understand that my job in life wasn’t to shield him from hardship. My goal was to let him develop resiliency by learning to cope on his own—and with a little help from his friends.
Anxiety, I’ve come to understand, is normal (and not a bad thing unless it seriously interferes with daily activities). Harry experienced it at camp, and I felt it when I left him behind. But I put my trust in Birch Rock, and felt more and more confident as my child grew into a good, capable young man, steeped in the lessons of “Help the Other Fellow.” Harry and I were both ready when as an 18-year-old he took his wilderness skills, level- headedness, and self-confidence to the start of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. I’ll never stop being proud of his solo thru-hike of those 2,184 miles. And I’ll never stop being grateful to Birch Rock for everything.