What happens when you are asked to sacrifice your own happiness to do something you downright dread just for the sake of your little one? That’s when we are really tested as parents, and no parent can escape those moments. The test for me, for instance, came last month, when my daughter set her sights on a weekend sleepaway camp.
What should have been a simple process of filling out a few forms and running to Target for gear quickly transformed into a lot of hand-wringing and self-doubt.
“We are short a counselor. Can you do it?” asked the parent who was coordinating the trip. My first instinct was to press “end call.”
“Whoa, whoa, wait. Me? A camp counselor at a kids’ camp? You want me to sleep outdoors? Do I look like Bear Grylls?” I was incredulous.
Let me explain. I am not an outdoors person. I am not a camper. I have no interest in forests or bugs that are the size of baseballs. I love a weekend getaway with air-conditioning and room service, not tents and sleeping bags. I imagined myself hunting for my dinner and foraging for nuts and berries or worse, lost in the forest without phone reception.
“I don’t know. I might be the wrong person for this,” I hesitated. “In fact, I am probably allergic to everything out there. I don’t know how to start a fire or even sing a campfire song. I don’t even like watching TV shows that have anything to do with camping or the outdoors. I am getting an asthma attack just thinking about it.”
But it was no use. My daughter was already sold on this idea, and her happiness hinged on my willingness to step out on a limb, literally. This was not going to be a normal camping trip. I couldn’t even turn to Bear Grylls for guidance, because not only was I going out into the great unknown, but I would also be working. I had been put in charge of a cabin of boys. Forget about my own survival, it was my duty to make sure that these boys didn’t become hors d’oeuvres for bears.
This was for my daughter, though. I would sacrifice my own comfort for her smiles, high fives and hugs. And so I began mental preparations for this endeavor. This was like nothing I had ever done before. How would I wrangle all these boys while I was completely out of my element? I turned to a buddy for advice.
“Dude, you’re gonna have to drop the hammer. Flip the switch. Be firm. Let them know who is boss,” he said, without pause.
I was clueless. “Drop the hammer? I don’t even think I have a hammer to drop if I wanted to, or a switch to flip. And technically, I am probably not the boss. There is probably a head counselor or something, or some type of counselor parliament or committee.”
It was clear that sarcasm wasn’t going to get me through this, so in the days leading up to the trip, I got to work. I watched videos on escaping bear attacks (don’t run!) and Googled tips for preventing tick bites (don’t go into the woods!). I packed days ahead, and I picked up extra hand sanitizer. I had prepared, as best as one can, for the worst weekend of my life. I would make it out of the woods, surely worse for wear, but with a happy child.
My preparation paid off. It only took a day of camping to bring my blood pressure to baseline. What I didn’t anticipate, however, is that I would have fun. I was actually enjoying myself, and more importantly, my daughter was reveling in nature and making lifelong memories with her fellow campers.
Yes, there was still a lot of dirt. And when you have dirt and boys, you get stinky boys. Stinky boys who refused to take showers. Boys you had to bribe to even touch a drop of water. (OK, maybe I wasn’t really roughing it after all. The camp did have running water.) But I would really like to know whose idea was it to include chili beans on the camping menu. Our cabin was filled with funky odors and sounds. It became a hazard to any human within 100 feet. Even the bears stayed away.
The trip ended too soon, though. My daughter’s smile had never left her face since we arrived. On our last day, I packed my backpack with all my dusty clothes and squirted the last drop of hand sanitizer. I looked back at my stench-filled cabin and smiled as I felt a little hand grab mine.
“Daddy, that was the best trip ever. I love you, Daddy.”
And that reminded me why we sacrifice.