Trusting Life with Our Kids, and our Kids with Life

It won’t be long before summer camps will install video monitors in those nasty bathrooms with screen doors or flimsy curtains in an attempt to allow parents to catch a live-feed that insures them that their darlings have had enough fiber (they haven’t).

I read an article in a major news magazine today that referenced a summer camp I attended for several years. That camp will post 80,000 photos on its website this summer, over the eleven weeks they are in session, so that parents can catch glimpses from home of their children in action. It’s a trend in camping to be increasingly allowing parents and children to stay connected electronically, with some camps allowing campers access to services like paying $1 for three tweets per day from a favorite celeb. Apparently Nicky Minaj might do something amazing while America’s children are making macrame plant-holders and gimp lanyards and practicing archery. There’s even a labor-saving trend that takes the burden off of parents who must now look for and at all the pictures that they (apparently) demand from the camps… and that’s the application of face-recognition software. You can tell your PC “Find Jessica,” and you’ll have a curated group of photos of, hopefully, your sweet child and anyone else who looks like her at all.

Don’t get me wrong. I love hearing from my sister that her boys look happy in photos at camp and that she has spotted them hanging out together; that’s cool for any mom.  And when my kids went to camp (the youngest at least for the trend towards online photos didn’t exist with the older two), I looked at the photos. And then I spent part of the day worrying that he looked sad or lonely or not engaged in badminton. When in reality, he was relaxing his facial muscles between moments of hilarity or he really was sad but that was okay because sometimes we’re sad — and our mothers knowing about it doesn’t necessarily help the child or the mother.

But as an older mother (i.e. the kids are launched), I can say that often the best gift we can give our kids is to not be attuned (beyond the age of low-key potty training) to every last movement, bowel or otherwise, that junior makes. What a gift we give them when we say, “You’ll be fine” or “I trust you to handle this without me,” or “Sure, you might  make a mistake or have a few funky moments, but you’re resilient enough to figure it out.”

I had to keep myself occupied while one “child” (then a college student) traveled alone to Siberia — gasp! — without a cell phone. I’ve known when one was navigating a shut-down of public transportation in Greece (and would miss a ferry and had nowhere planned to sleep). I’ve got another who’s taking a big risk to launch an unorthodox business venture after leaving school before graduating. There are no guarantees in life of safety, of certainty, of anything much. I’m grateful to be a praying woman with a theology that reminds me that God cares more about my kids than even I do. But still I’ve had my share of opportunities to worry, as we all do unless we require our kids to stay home in a padded room

Yet there is a sturdiness that develops for a kid whose parents are interested — yes, of course — but not obsessed, who pay appropriate attention to the child’s goings-on but have lives of their own, and who foster in their children the knowledge that they can navigate the big wild world themselves, in part because their parents taught them what they needed to and then told them that they had confidence in their ability to gradually begin to do it themselves, with or without photographic evidence.

Confidence — the gift that keeps on giving.


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