I want William to be like Ava in this family camp environment. She thrives and flourishes in the outdoor air, always up for a new adventure. This year we’ve hardly seen her from morning to night because she’s off with her cousins, finding something fun to do. She giggles and laughs and tells us each night at bedtime that it was the best day of her life.
William is an entirely different story. He needs routine to feel safe and relaxed. When every day is a bit different and there is no real structure or shape to the way he spends time, he becomes anxious and more high-strung than usual. This brings him to an emotional collapse more frequently than usual, and then I become tense and crabby with him. And so the cycle goes.
I find this church camp stressful because William struggles in this environment. I suppose if I’m really honest, I can relate to him here. I need structure and order. I want to know what is coming next, and then the next thing after that. I chafe under the expectations that I must attend a service or an event because everyone else is, and I struggle with my desire to relax and unwind instead of amuse my bored four year old.
Perhaps the problem lies in remembering how much I loved this camp as a kid, then a teenager, and then a young adult. It’s much harder to be a part of the camp with young children who are afraid of the classes which are designed for them. The endless uphill struggle to convince them that the classes are fun becomes wearying and frustrating, especially when other people’s children will attend willingly, rubbing just a bit of salt into my gaping, public wound.
I have watched Ava come alive this year. Maybe seven is the magic age for kids at this camp, because they can confidently ride the bus to the youth side and become immersed in the culture of that special place. She is making memories that will last her a lifetime, much like I did when I camped here as a kid. Possibly I need to take the long range view - in three more years William will be seven and hopefully start to understand how fun it can be to participate in all that this camp offers.
Until that time, I have to be flexible, and not expect too much from William. I have to try to see it from his four year old perspective and not force my wishes on him. It’s like the first camping trip you take with your baby when you are used to camping as adults: the effect is similar to having ice cold water dumped over your head, and then being kicked in the face repeatedly when the shock from the water has worn off. In other words, it’s a thousand times harder to camp with small kids than it is to camp without them. You have to adjust your expectations for leisure or you will go insane.
I’m going to change my attitude and try to enjoy camp with my four year old. He’s easier now than he’s ever been before, but compared to Ava, he’s still very time-consuming. This is a family camp, designed for children of all ages, and I want him to have good memories too. Instead of remembering the good ol’ days, I must create new memories for us as a family that include William, and make room for what he needs in this changing environment.