Once your child hits primary school, you stop counting milestones. Yes, the annual birthday, but not much in between. Now it’s more about personality unfolding than firsts.

Then you realise that not only is your boy definitively no longer a baby, tall enough to show serious signs of overtaking you in a couple of years, but that it is now time for him to spend a night away from you on a school camp.

Now, I’m not a fan of this concept. I’m not one of those parents who are hysterical about sleepovers, but I don’t see them as a rite of passage that needs to be done with aged five. It’s possible that I stayed away from my parents quite young – I definitely had nights, even a week, at my cousin’s house and vice versa, but I’m not sure at what age. Family is different though, you have ages to build comfort with not just the children, but the adults.

These days children talk about sleepovers at friend’s houses aged four or five. I’m like whut. I’m just going to say it – it seems like a Western thing. It actually makes no sense because kids get sleepy super early; it’s not like being teenagers and talking through the night.

Nene actually had his first sleepover last year (or a couple of years ago) at his kindergarten friend’s house. I was skeptical because he is the kind of kid who does not want to sleep alone, and I see no reason to force him. In the end, I sent my helper along, just in case. The other option was going to be basically, a no. I do trust the parent involved though – I knew my son would be safe in her hands, even if I wasn’t sure he would be comfortable around her to tell her if he was really uncomfortable. I frankly don’t think kids need to feel that kind of stranded – unless they are forced to – aged five.

There was a post I read which I cannot now seem to find in which a girl talked about how her mother taught her to have boundaries. She was told that if she was in any situation she was uncomfortable in, she could come to call her and her mother would come to get her, no questions asked. And this is what she did, several times. It allowed her to draw the line at people being mean to her, something that is hard to do at sleepovers where one is essentially trapped in someone’s space. While there is something to be said for resilience, there is also something to be said for young children knowing that they don’t have to face the world alone or stay in situations that are too hard to bear.

It never occurred to me to say “no” to Nene, though I can understand why a parent would. Thirty kids with 3 known adults (the camp would have staff but we were not informed how many) is not a reassuring adult-child ratio to me for an overnight event. It was at the seaside. Basically, if something happened to my kid, I would give the school hell, but it would be my guilt talking. Because this was never a fool-proof situation.

On the couple of days before the camp, I was edgier than usual. It could have been something else – PMS, work – or it could have been me being latently worried. Apart from not being conceptually 100% on board with any overnight camp, there were the masses of things they had to pack.

Not just Nene’s bag but Mimi’s for day camp too. The instructions for each were blurring into each other and I did not want to be the mother that forgot to send her kid sunscreen or god forbid, lunch.

On the morning of the camp, V told me he had only seen me look like this when Nene was a baby and had colic. I pointed out that I wasn’t the only one stressed out. My helper E had the same tense expression and cat-who-just-littered expression. She wasn’t thrilled about this too.

Once again, it was brought home to me who my children are privileged to have two mothers each. Two women who are deeply attuned to their innermost thoughts and feelings, who will do what it takes to ensure their welfare on instinct.

It went as well as it could – they actually eventually fell asleep – so at least I knew he could handle camp. He is also pretty popular which always eases stuff like this. In Mimi’s case, I’m more wary – she has never slept away from home or without an adult, and I don’t foresee any opportunities for her to do so. Moreover, she doesn’t seem to have close friends at school so a whole day-and-a-half of people she doesn’t particularly like is going to be a lot. But fortunately, we have another year to go for that.

Nene came home exhausted but mostly happy. When V asked him whether he wanted to go again next year, he said: “Yeah … but could I not stay the night?

 

 

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