Tough Love

By: Crissie Kirby

tough love
“Ms. Kirby”, the voice said, “guess what?” I cringed a little when I heard the voice; it was one of the directors of the SC National Guard Youth Camp. My fear was that, after only a day, Pierce had gotten injured. The words she uttered were honestly more difficult for me to hear.

“Pierce is homesick and wants to come home”

UGH. That was honestly the LAST news I expected to get from camp. I suppose I went into the whole sleepaway camp idea a bit naïve. My children spend a week to ten days away from home with their grandparents. We are a family that does sleepovers for crying out loud. BUT, this mom totally failed to take into account that Pierce had never been away somewhere with people he did not know. And when he went to camp, he, literally, knew no one. No other campers. No counselors. No one.

I was at a loss. Pierce is my independent, never-meet-a -stranger kid. Even as a two or three year old, he would stand on the balcony in Hilton Head and talk to every random person that walked towards the pool. But, oh the tears that I knew were falling and the despair I could audibly hear in his little voice rocked me to my core. However, my core told me that going to pick him up, to rescue him, was not the lesson we sent him to camp to learn. I told him that I wanted him to stay at least one more night. The director and I spoke again and we agreed that maybe it was a combination of just adjusting and being tired and that staying was to his benefit. We made the decision to talk on Tuesday. On Facebook, I posted a passionate plea for prayers of peace and comfort . . . for both Pierce and me!

Tuesday rolled around and I thought we were in the clear. I posted a grateful message of thanks. At about 7:45 p.m. my phone rang. My heart sank as I heard my son’s tears before I heard his voice. He begged and pleaded with me to come pick him up. He declared that he could NOT stay one more night. I tried being nice. I tried being stern. Finally I spoke with his head counselor who relayed that Pierce had had a good day, until he got mail from home. I got my ex-husband on the phone because frankly, I was cracking. The weight of the tears and the despair was weakening my soul. Still, I didn’t feel “right” about picking him up early from camp. Together, the adults made some tough decisions that night. We decided that unless Pierce was injured, there were to be no more phone calls home. That ability was totally taken off of the table. We also made the seemingly cruel decision to withhold ALL of his mail for the remainder of the week. He would get his mail on Saturday after graduation when we were there to pick him up. I asked his counselor only one small favor . . . could he just text me and let me know that Pierce was ok at night. He was immediately receptive and followed through with this and Pierce was none the wiser.

tough loveSaturday morning rolled around and the two hour ride to Summerton and Camp Bob Cooper felt like it might as well have been ten hours long. We arrived and gathered Pierce’s belongings. We waited on the graduation ceremony to begin. My son beamed when he saw us. My heart swelled to see that other than having a little tan, he looked no worse for the wear. The campers marched in and performed their group cadences. As the sun rose higher and the temperature crept up, the ceremony began to draw to a close; there was only the awarding of the two camp awards left. The first was the MVPeavy award (camper of the year). As the description was read off, Pierce’s dad and I looked at each other and whispered that it sounded like it was Pierce they were talking about. What? It was Pierce. Tears fell from my eyes as my ten year old’s name was called out as having been chosen as the MVP of the entire camp. My child, who had called home twice, adamant that he could not spend one more night there, had just been called out for displaying notable assistance to other campers during activities and for having a positive and helpful attitude. Suffice to say, I was, and am, proud beyond words of my son.

However, my pride is not rooted so much in him having received the award as it is in his overcoming a challenge that seemed insurmountable. What would have happened had I caved on the first night, or even the second, and gone and picked him up? I would have sent him a solid message that I would rescue him at any point in time when life gets just a little tough. Make no mistake, tough love is HARD; I cried that week; I barely slept that week; my concentration was at an all time low that week. Every day it seems that we hear, see, or read some article about the increasing role of helicopter parents in today’s children. We see parents who constantly rescue their children from any level of difficulty or disappointment in life, whether it be in school, on the playground, or even in college of all places!! Was Pierce disappointed in my not coming to pick him up? I’m sure that he was. Was being away from home with no familiar face difficult for Pierce? Again, I’m sure that it was. But, when my son looks at me on a regular basis and tells me “thank you for sending me to camp” and how excited he seems to be about attending camp next year, it makes the tears, worry, sleeplessness, and, most importantly, the tough love completely worth it. Are there some situations from which we, as parents, need to rescue our children? Certainly. But there comes a point in time when we, as parents, must learn what is really helping them out of harm’s way and what is just interfering with a part of growing up and requires just a smidge of “tough love”.

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