What a difference a year makes. This time last year, I was preparing to send my firstborn to the opposite coast of the U.S.—away from home longer than she’d ever been, without a family member within hundreds of miles. In the days leading up to her departure I kept asking myself…would she be warm enough? Would she remember to put on sunblock? Would there be anything at mealtime that she wanted to eat? Would she make any friends? Would she cry herself to sleep each night? Silly questions to the casual observer, but searing questions to a mom of a 10-year old, sending her daughter to camp for the first time.
Yesterday my daughter and I returned to Miss Hall’s School in Pittsfield, MA, again to drop her off for camp, exactly one year later. This time I knew she’d be warm enough, that she wouldn’t wear enough sun block, that she’d eat, that she would make friends and that she would not cry herself to sleep. This time I knew she’d be chatting, giggling, dancing and singing until given ONE FINAL WARNING that it was time to go to sleep. It’s a big deal sending your child off to camp, especially your firstborn, especially for the first time, especially when that camp is 3,000 miles away. But wow, is it ever an incredible feeling for parent and child alike to do just that.
The tween stage of life, and of parenting, is fraught with challenges unlike any that come before. And what makes this stage particularly hard for parents is how quickly these challenges arrive. One night you put your daughter to sleep as she argues about wanting to stay up later and drifts off dreaming of Hannah Montana. The next morning she wakes up arguing about wearing eyeliner and obsessing over Twilight. Seriously, what better time to send her off to camp? We parents of the helicopter generation are so used to hovering over our children’s every move, making every decision for them, ensuring every one of their needs is met, feeling personally responsible for their personal happiness.
Given the perspective I have after sending my daughter off to camp at this age, I can say there is hardly a greater gift we can give our girls—or ourselves for that matter—than to give them two whole weeks without us. They WILL realize that they must bring a sweatshirt if it’s cold outside. They WILL figure out how to get their nutritional needs met. And most importantly, they will make friends. Because that’s what GLI summer camp is all about: it’s not just an opportunity to experience independence, self-sufficiency and fun in a safe environment, which is what all camps can claim. Rather, GLI is where girls learn the skills to embrace their real selves, and to build authentic friendships with girls who love them for their real selves.
GLI is where our daughters can learn to be true to themselves. And if my daughter comes home a little sun burnt and missing items of clothing, I won’t complain. Because I know that she will have gained something far more important: greater knowledge of who she is, and what a real friend looks like.
Stacy Peña is a mother and marketing consultant living in Silicon Valley.