July 3, 2018
Sunday night, we had Vespers. Vespers is a weekly gathering where we sit together at the girls or boys sailpoint and talk about what we value. It is not a religious event. Instead, it is a gathering of our community and a celebration of our values.
Let me share an overview of each event.
On the boys side, I talked about gratitude and choosing your attitude.
We had a session of “Grateful Deeds”, during which 15-20 campers individually stood and publicly thanked someone. We had campers thanking the kitchen team, the maintenance team and the Senior Campers for doing the “thankless” jobs. Others praised their counselors for patience and/or silliness. Finally, we had campers thanking their friends for playfulness and stories and camaraderie.
After that, I shared a story about my time in New York City following college. My first day was a very hard one. I was wearing a wool suit during a record heat wave. When I smiled at people, they looked at me like I was either crazy or annoying. Returning home that evening, a man walking his pit bulls allowed one of them to lunge at me and tear my pant leg. The coup de grace was my return to my apartment building where a homeless man seemed to mistake the entry to my building with a urinal.
That night, I swore I wanted to go home. Frankly, I was homesick. I wanted to go back to Texas where people would smile at me, dogs had never attacked me and portals are rarely (if ever) confused with toilet facilities.
I then looked down and saw a menu for Pakistani food. I had never had Pakistani food. I then realized something important.
I was in a unique place. Where else could I get any food in the world? Or hear any type of music? Or attended world-class shows?
I also realized that I would only be there for 2 years (I was in an analyst program that ended after 2 years).
I made a resolution that day – every time I missed Texas, I would do something I could only do in New York.
As a result, I went to blues concerts, ate Ethiopian food and attended exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art. I took runs through Central Park and walks through Greenwich Village.
I suggested to the campers to approach camp the same way. Of course they will miss home. After all, home is an awesome place. But home does not have all these awesome friends or these counselors. Home does not have a glob, a climbing wall and water toys. I let them know that when they go home, they will be “camp sick”, so they should celebrate their time here.
On the girls side, Susie Ma’am read a story about a caterpillar/butterfly in a chrysalis. In the story, the writer talks about the small hole that develops in the chrysalis. The newly minted butterfly must struggle mightily to get out. The process is arduous and looks incredibly difficult. A compassionate person saw this struggle and cut a larger hole in the chrysalis, allowing the butterfly to avoid the difficult exit.
But it turns out that the struggle is important to the butterfly. The long and difficult exit from the shell scrapes the wings and removes excess moisture. When the helpful human cut the larger hole, the butterfly emerged, attempted to fly and fell to the ground.
Susie Ma’am suggested to the girls that our struggles and challenges are the gifts that make us stronger. She then facilitated a conversation where girls shared challenges (a broken bone, an argument with a friend, a failed election) and talked about how these roadblocks helped make them stronger.
Last night, Susie Ma’am and I were talking about Vespers and an article I just received about building resilience in children. The writer talked about the difference between being a “snowplow parent” (one who prepares the road for his or her child) versus a capacity-building parent (one who prepares his or her child for the road).
Having watched children and families for a quarter of a century, I am convinced that children need to face challenges and struggles to develop resilience and strength. The campers that endure some homesickness at age 10 or who have a tough teacher when they are 12 are better prepared to shine in college and beyond.
In other words, we should resist opening up the chrysalis for them. We should let them experience challenges and even hardship when the stakes are low and we are there to help them. But we should not endeavor to protect them from all challenges, because they need to flex their resilience muscles.
When parents ask me for advice, I have two thoughts. First, I am nervous and humbled. Certainly, I have extensive experience observing children and parenting styles, but I cannot even pretend to have all the answers on such an important topic.
Second, I do know that I have observed that the trend in parenting is a clear one: we are doing more for our children than parents did a decade or two ago. My advice is to err on the side of doing less. If you think your child can do a task alone, let her. If he has trouble with his homework, give him time to figure it out on his own. Allow your children to have free play with friends without watching every interaction. If they have a conflict with a friend or a teacher, let them adjudicate the conflicts on their own.
Our children are stronger than we give them credit for. More importantly, if we protect them from any discomfort or difficulty, we are denying them the opportunity to learn how to rebound from challenges or resolve conflicts. We cannot be with them in the future, so we need to prepare them for it.
Even if that means watching them fight their way out of the chrysalis.
PS We also have Sunday Sundaes before (girls) and after (boys) Vespers, so even if you do not want to think deep thoughts, you have something to look forward to.