It’s a common, often celebrated, scene for parents as school wraps up and summer vacation begins. We fill backpacks with water bottles, sunscreen, and bathing suits and drop our kids off to a group of teenagers who enthusiastically usher them into swimming pools or arenas or soccer fields. It’s the Summer Camp Tradition that many parents take up and this week we did the same with our oldest daughter.
As we left her on her first day at summer camp, after our hugs and high fives had been delivered, I heard her being asked by a camp counselor if she wanted to go play while motioning to a group of similarly young, and definitely smiling, children who were throwing a ball in the air at the far end of the building.
I imagine for camp counselors, this is most often a rhetorical question. Of course kids want to play, that’s what they do after all, isn’t it? They throw balls in the air or run from one side of a field to another. They run under parachutes and they scream. A lot.
But our child shook her head no. She didn’t do it angrily, she didn’t do it defiantly, she didn’t want to play. This has been the image I’ve been tossing around in my mind for a while now. I believe this is because I’m conditioned to think this kind of introversion is problematic and that her saying no to playing means something is wrong and that I should regret our decision to have her in summer camp at all.
As someone who might also say “no, I’d rather not play,” I felt a mixture of “we can’t possibly leave our daughter here when she doesn’t want to be,” and “she’s a strong kid even though she doesn’t talk a lot. She’ll survive.”
It’s these moments where I struggle most as a parent to a quiet child. I thought being quiet myself—being one who is inherently reserved, would give me an advantage when I encountered this kids of situations. I thought I’d be able to put myself in her place and understand the reasoning behind saying no to playing with others. This hasn’t worked out that way though.
As I watch her, I wonder what I could have done differently to make her feel more comfortable around other people. I wonder if it’s because she sees me stay reserved that she has become so herself.
Quiet doesn’t mean weak and quiet doesn’t mean lacking confidence. Quiet doesn’t make one subordinate and quiet doesn’t make one a follower. Quiet doesn’t even mean one isn’t having fun. Quiet simply means someone has the ability to navigate moments within their heads.
We need to constantly remind ourselves that we don’t experience things the way our kids do. We don’t get to pick the emotions they experience when they take on new situations and we don’t get to pick how they manage those emotions. When our kids say they have fun even if you don’t seem them participating the same way the other kids are, we need to believe them.
And, as has happened every day of her life, the hours passed by and eventually it was time for us to leave work and go get her and her sister. We picked her up at camp where she was waiting outside, her hat askew and her backpack firmly strapped around her shoulders.
“It was so awesome.”
I love everything about our quiet kid even if there are some things I find harder to navigate. I love watching her figure out how to deal with new situations and how to make friends or have fun in her own ways. I love watching her think things through before jumping in to them and I love the smile that comes once she does, even if that smile is shown to us in private and not for all to see.
Quietly or loudly, I love that she says no and I love that she says yes.