Farm Camp, Fear, and Parenting Moments

farm campThe kids have just finished their second year of farm camp. In addition to providing time for me to work and a fun experience for the kids, I try to choose programs that supplement the types of activities we do at home as well as the skills and interests that Big Guy bring to the family. Since neither of us are particularly outdoorsy, and I tend to kill just about every plant that comes near our house, farm camp seemed like a good way to go. They get to do things like pet the sheep, make butter and ice cream, and play a seemingly never-ending string of farm-related games. They also take part in “chores” like grooming the pony, mucking out stalls, and weeding the garden.

I knew Bug would love camp. He is a sponge for information, enjoys making new friends, and has a gentle soul that animals can sense a mile away. LadyBug was a bit of a wild card. She is shy around new people and nervous about trying even the most simple of tasks if she thinks she’ll be embarrassed by her attempts. In those ways, sadly, she is just like me as a child. Sure enough, she held back last year, talking little, and refusing to try new things like milking the cow. She enjoyed the experience, but I knew her enjoyment was tempered by anxiety and, most likely, but the missed opportunities her fear brought on.

When the week was over last year, both kids enthusiastically agreed on attending again, but I had my doubts. Sure enough, on the evening before camp was to begin, LadyBug insisted that she would not go. And I could see on her face, without even having to ask, the worry over all of the new experiences and new people. Would she like them? Would they like her? Would she make a mistake and have people laugh? Perhaps worse, I could completely understand her feelings on the matter. I had been there time and time again as a child.

These are the moments that not only test our parenting skills, but mold our children’s futures. I do not want my children growing up missing out on fun experiences because they are afraid. I know all too well how that fear can rob you. On the other hand, I don’t want them to feel trapped or forced into doing things they really aren’t comfortable doing. I want them to learn that fear of new situations is natural and OK, but that pushing past that fear can offer great rewards. LadyBug and I talked about some of the things she would be doing. We talked about what to do when you weren’t sure what to do, and how her camp counselors would always be able to help. And then I told her that I knew she was nervous, but that she had to try her hardest and not let her fear keep her from having a good time. It seemed to click, but you never quite know what she hears when you tell her things.

Yesterday I picked them up from the last day of camp. LadyBug saw me waiting, but pretended she did not, lingering with her new friends before dragging her feet over to me. And when I told her it was time to go, she paused, and insisted that she needed more time to say good-bye. She then ran to one of her counselors and enveloped her in a huge hug. When she returned to me with a smile, she announced, “Mama, I milked the cow today for the very first time! I loved it. It was so much fun! I wish I could go to farm camp every day!”

There are plenty of things I’m failing at in my parent journey, but you have to hope that the experiences like this are the ones that shine through in the end.  And I’m going to keep nudging her to push herself, because every time she returns with a proud smile I know it’s the right thing to do.

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