Pemi for me began one evening in August 1998. I was standing at a Cape Cod party, eight months pregnant. An attractive man, about 15 years my senior in blue blazer and tie approached me. Jim, my new neighbor, offered to get me lemonade and then quickly asked if I was having a boy or a girl. Stunned by the familiarity of the question, I stiffly smiled and asked, “Why?” and then for some reason (mainly because he looked kind and normal), I divulged, “…oh, I’m having a boy.” Jim smiled. He paused. He replied, “Well then you need to send him to Camp Pemi.”
I didn’t know Jim from Adam. Jim went on before I could say a word: “Christine, they speak ‘boy’ at Pemi; you’ve gotta send him. I was a camper, then a counselor. My son was a camper and next year he’ll be an AC (assistant counselor). It is a very special place. Trust me.”
I had known Jim for less than 45 seconds. He was giving strict advice to a mildly neurotic first time pregnant woman about her unborn son. Yet there was something so easy about the way he talked about Pemi. I felt trust. In the years that ensued I became great friends with Jim and his family and was often regaled with his fun stories (“the year of the big storm!”) about Pemi.
Seven years later I began to really consider Pemi as a sleep-away camp for Harry. A respected teacher at Harry’s private school, who had previously been a counselor in Pemi’s Junior Camp, was my next contact. Andy told me he’d wanted to take a position with the best boys’ camp in New England. He had driven all over and met with many camp directors. Pemi stood out above the rest as a place not only with pristine, beautiful surroundings, but with bright, kind, committed counselors. He told me Pemi was a “great place for a boy to grow up, and a great company of men to grow into.” I could not imagine a better recommendation.
Even with all of this reassurance and vetting, letting go of the firstborn son was difficult. I wondered who would do all of those things Mommy does? Could an eight year old really care for himself? Would his counselor be attentive to his specific needs? As a single parent I was focused on getting everything “just right.”
But what holds us back as parents is the unknown. There is always a “first” – the first born, the first time that child experiences something big and new, and the resulting parent’s stress and conflict about the unknowns while trying to honor their own high standards of parenting a child.
The process of letting go was tough, no matter how confident and peppy I acted for Harry. During a weak moment I told him that I felt like a Spartan mother dropping her son at the edge of the wood in order for him to come back a man. He reminded me that Spartan boys left at six so we were ahead of the game.
When we arrived at Camp, I uncharacteristically (and deliberately) broke a rule: the Pemi dictum of not making the son’s bed. The counselor was incredibly kind. He knew I needed more time to say goodbye, and after a quiet conversation I still remember today, I knew the junior counselor (really a newish adult himself) was capable and ready to care for my son.
Trust is central at Pemi; they thank you for entrusting your sons with them and they understand that it takes more than a few recommendations from well-meaning people to allow you to let go and hand over something so precious.
Today Harry could fill pages if asked to write about his positive experiences at Camp. He will talk to anyone who will listen about the supportive place where you can try anything and not be afraid; about he time that he lost his toothbrush in the pond, or woke up before dawn to count loons, the finer points of Frisbee Running Bases, and the time TRJR found him at the lake tangled up in fishing line after trying to cast a line for fish. Little does this son know that his Mom nearly inhaled every letter he sent home talking about pickles at lunch or “send more socks.”
The act of letting go is a constant theme in this complicated business of rearing children. It’s not a straight line. But when Harry and I arrived yesterday and walked into Senior Two (waterfront real estate with a fireplace!) I knew “we” had made it. Harry couldn’t stop smiling. After all those years of pick ups and drop offs, there wasn’t any stress. Not only did Harry arrive as a confident Senior, I did too.
~ Christine Tuttle
NOTE FROM CAMP PEMI: Many thanks to Christine for launching a new category for the Pemi Blog: “Parent Contributions.” We welcome your personal stories of parenting a Pemi camper. Please email your words of wisdom, humor, or insight to camppemi and, if possible, include an image or two.