Chocolate bannock: our parenting secret-weapon

     Meg got another acceptance letter last week. Not from a college – it was even better. She's been offered a job at the wilderness canoe tripping camp where she spent five of her last six summers. Anna and Andrew are also going back this summer, and the anticipation has been high since January.

Sometimes they talk about the food:
Scene: sitting around the kitchen island
Meg: “Two years ago my section made me a Boston Cream bannock* for my birthday.”
Anna: “Oh, we made one on Wawiagama Lake that had chocolate pudding for frosting and M&Ms on it, and Mimi dropped it but Jenna glued it back together with more pudding....”
My thought-bubbles: 1. While plotting the dessert-to-be, they gathered and split the wood, built the fire, set up the reflector oven and cooked dinner as usual; 2. these girls weren't worrying about calories or body image; 3. their memories are about the teamwork and the crazy fun they had.

Sometimes they talk about the challenges:
Scene: on a rainy drive to the mall.
Anna: “I remember walking on those logs across the swampy part of the Diamond Lake portage and because it was raining I slipped off and got stuck up to my thigh...”
Andrew: “Oh yeah, I remember that portage. When we did it...”
Anna: “...and then Tal had to reach to me with her paddle, and I almost lost my boot but instead she fell off too and then we were both laughing hysterically and then the rest of our section had to put down their packs to help us get out...”
My thought bubbles: 1. This is more about friendship than adversity; 2. wow, they needed to be strong and agile to do that; 3. there's no sense of failure for falling off, only the sense of achievement for getting out; 4. they probably had a great bannock that night too.

But mostly they talk about their friends, where they've been and where they're going to go. As I do the dishes I am silently grateful for the self-esteem, trust, and playfulness that I hear.

     Remember Tiger Moms, the intense-pressure-to-succeed style of parenting? If I am a Tiger Mom about anything, it is about helping my children become their own best friend. It's one of the bottom lines in life: if you like yourself and can rely on yourself, then you will be okay. But here's the oxymoronic part of the equation: if I am to succeed with that goal, I have to let go of my children. That's the opposite of the clench of a Tiger Mom. But here's where the parenting secret-weapon comes in – let them go to camp, to sleepaway camp, to a wilderness camp.
     For us, Camp Wabun (in Temagami, Ontario) has been the antidote to the over-scheduled, over-pressured, and over-evaluated lives our teens navigate. Imagine the release of that load. Imagine what the coming generation would be like if they all had a better view of the horizon, and could look up and out at the world with the strength and calmness of knowing themselves.
     The hard part for Bob and me was not knowing every little thing about what they were experiencing. Was it going ok? How were the bugs? Were they homesick? 
      But when I stand on that Wabun dock each August, water clean enough to drink lapping at the boards, and watch as each of my children's sections paddles in to camp for the last time, I know we have made the right choice. They are glorious: strong, confident, bonded to their friends and their own inner capabilities, full of fresh sunlight and the beauty of the land that they came to know.
     And, I'll wager that each of them – Meg, Anna, Andrew – is his or her own best friend. It gives me hope.

*Bannock is a slightly sweet yeast-free bread that has been a staple of old-style open fire cooking for generations.

Note: There are many good camps out there. For information specific to Wabun, visit www.wabun.com. Also, Michael Thompson's new book Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow (Ballantine Books, 2012), is a good resource on this subject.