I dropped my thirteen year old off to basketball camp today and she was a tight ball of anxiety all the way to the university where the residential camp is being held. She was so nervous that when my car didn't start for the first couple of tries, she was actually feeling glad that maybe she wasn't going to make it to camp. But the car did start and off we went.
Now, I want to put this into perspective, this kid has gone to sleep away camp twice before. When she was 10 I drove her up to Vermont for a week of circus camp and then when she was 11 a week of basketball camp in cabins! For both of these drop-offs, I barely garnered a good-bye, she immediately absorbed into the crew of campers and was eager for me to make my exit.
Today was markedly different. She was terrified. She was cursing under her breath and ready to snap at the slightest suggestion, "Do you want the camping headlamp so you can read at night?" was met with an apoplectic "NO!!" that slowly devolved into "Ok, maybe" when she realized there were no lights by the dorm beds. She even whapped her sister in the face when the seven year-old went to give her hug and the teen flailed in response. When we went into her room a second time and the roommate was there, my daughter's social awkwardness resembled that of a two-year old hiding behind her mother's skirt. Truly remarkable.
While her behavior was embarrassing and inappropriate, I couldn't help looking at her as a sociology experiment in action. I mean, here was a once confident, vibrant, socially capable young woman. At the age of 10 and 11, these situations were simple for her. You meet new people by smiling and saying hello. But the ugly truth of the pubescence sapping the confidence out of my once radiant little girl was astounding. All of a sudden she was not wearing the right clothes, she didn't have the right shoes, she didn't want her roommate to think she was weird. We had the opportunity to talk about it a little on our fifth trek back to the car for a missing item. "You know, you've done this before, right?" I said. "You've been to sleep away camp twice before and both times you were excited from the moment we got to campus. You went right up to people and said hi. You weren't self-conscious or anything, you were just yourself." And she replied with the self-reflective wisdom that I do so love in her, "I know, but I've learned that every thing I do matters, about whether people will like me because of what I'm wearing or what I look like, or the things I say. Mom, I've learned that it matters a lot. So that's why I'm scared." And a little part of me sighed because I want her to have her 11 year-old confidence back right this very minute, another part of me cried because it is so tragic that the fiesty has died in her, but the other part of me just listened knowing that all of this is part of the journey. "You're going to be fine," I said.
As we walked back into the lounge where the other girls were gathering and it was time to say goodbye, I made a big display about giving her a hug because I knew she'd be embarrassed and brush me off, which she did, although I saw her smirk. And then I whispered in her ear, "Hey, there's your roommate over there in black, standing by herself, you should go over and say hi."
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— MariPatient (@mari_g_p_music) July 30, 2012