I love butterflies. They are one of my favorite things to photograph, because most of the time there is great color to be had not only on the butterfly, but also in what surrounds them in the photo as well. They love color, and so do I. It works out. My daughter was with me when I was photographing these butterflies the other day. We chatted a little about their eating habits, as well as why some of them have frayed wings. Then we found one that had big spots, and we talked about what we remembered learning about them last year in science, and how their spots can be a defense mechanism that scares birds away. They’re so fragile, yet so resilient and remarkable.
Speaking of fragile. In twelve hours, my daughter will be leaving the house for her first-ever sleep away camp experience. She’s been counting down since Day 49. I would often hear her asking Siri how many days were left until July 6th. Sometimes Siri would oblige and help her in her countdown, and sometimes Siri thought she was asking how how many trees we had in our yard, and she would have to do the math on her own. Either way, it was very important to know how much longer she had to wait, and it always seemed like the day was never. going. to. come. It seemed like we had so many days in between then and now. But, it was really all an illusion, because, well, here it is.
Due to other traveling plans, we had to wait until this very last day before camp to actually pack her things. I did all the laundry before our trip, ordered just the right size bags, bought sheets for camp. I was on top of the things that mattered. Printing and reprinting the packing list, then the revised packing list. She could not wait to get packing this morning. We gathered everything, spread it out on her bed, organized the kits. It was good. She desperately wanted to be the one to cross off the items on the list (maybe told me so three or so times) so I obliged. <— That may not seem like any sort of a concession to a sane person, but to the List Maker and those that understand the obsession that is list making, it is. It’s an act of love and sacrifice. *ahem* We settled on the larger of the two new bags so she wouldn’t have any trouble repacking when things were no longer folded and were, instead, shoved into the large laundry bag that was, for now, so neatly packed into the pile. I might also add here that it is incredibly challenging for the serial over packer to minimally pack a child for camp. Especially one that has never been out of your care for five whole days before. Thank goodness they changed the snack rule, because I would have been up every night wondering if she was getting enough to eat. Her bag is well stocked.
We piled the things, check marked the list, zipped the zippers, and moved the bags to the foyer. We felt accomplished. And she has carried on with her day, randomly giving me the countdown now in hours. But, my biggest accomplishment hasn’t come yet. Mine comes tomorrow morning when I hug her goodbye, tell her I love her, and send her off to a camp four hours from her bedroom. Four hours from the kitchen where I prepare her food and chat with her for hours in a day. Four hours from me, for five days. But, deep down, in the more settled recesses of my heart, I know the truth — this is what we do as parents. This is what we prepare them for. We help them grow, send them off on new adventures…we help them spread their wings. But the truth is, this is also me growing. In sending her off to camp, to be in the care of others for days, I am spreading my wings as well. This is new to me, as it is for her. There are fears and concerns and all sorts of “what ifs” rolling around both our heads. In my more insecure moments, I’m tempted to think that my more shaky and sad emotions surrounding this are unreasonable. That I should just listen to friends whose children have gone away to camp in years past, those that say it will all be fine, and it will all be just fine. Reasonably, I know they are right, and it’s true: she will be fine. She will have a lovely time and I will likely look back on this and smile (with a small shake of my head) at my worries. But the thing is, I don’t want to forget this season. I don’t want to forget the countdown these past 49 days and the concerns I’ve had. I don’t want to forget because, someday, dear friends of mine, whose children are younger than my own, will be facing a similar countdown and I do not want to minimize their feelings, minimize the reality of what they are going through. I don’t want to tell them that it will all be fine, because that’s not what many are looking for when they share that they’re stressed about their child going away to camp. The reality is this: Parting ways is hard. Goodbyes are hard. Longer goodbyes are harder still. Letting go is hard.
There is a letting go when the nursing ends. There is a letting go when the baby is first left in the church nursery. There is a letting go when preschool is upon them and they drive away for those few hours that first day. There is a letting go when they stay at Grandma & Grandpa’s house for a night. And, there is a letting go in this first as well. And I have come to a good place here — a place where it is absolutely okay for me to feel the tears coming as I think about that bus driving her away, her climbing into bed at night in a cabin that is not her home, her taking care of all the things that I have worked so hard to help her learn to take of over the years. She is so ready for the responsibilities. And I have told her so. I wouldn’t have signed her up for such a trip as this if she hadn’t earned it through having gained our trust. I can’t deny her this just because it hurts my heart to let her go.
There will always be firsts, as there have been since her birth. This is a big one for me. Maybe not for every parent, but it is for me. I will say it without shame or worry that others would think I’m being too sensitive or overreacting. I love caring for her, and she is with me so much. I will miss her company in my hours. But, we have helped her grow wings in this first decade of her life. And it is my prayer that God will protect those wings and expand them even more in this time that she is away. She is graceful in life as these butterflies are. She is vibrant and colorful and joyful. As she heads off into the new and unfamiliar, I pray that we would both remember that God is with her and He goes before her. He will care for her in this first. As He will in this first for me. May our wings prove lovelier and stronger for it. And may they be a shade of comfort for those in our lives whose “firsts” are yet to come. Because, indeed, the struggle is real and necessary and beautiful.