Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sixth grade outdoor education

Way back in the spring of Tim’s fifth grade year, a full eleven months ago, we first heard talk of the sixth grade outdoor education program: three days and two nights at a nature camp in New Hampshire. “We did that when I was in sixth grade!” I thought to myself. And I think I had fun. I definitely remember learning one critical life-lesson on that trip, though it wasn’t anything the camp intended to teach me. While we unloaded our duffels from the bus in a fire-bucket line, one of my friends was getting on my nerves and I was deliberately rude to her. That night, she rolled out of a top bunk and nearly broke a vertebra; the injury caused her to be sent home from nature camp in the morning, and I felt guilty for the rest of the week. It was my first inkling that one reason not to be rude to someone is that if something bad happens to them, you’ll regret the unnecessary unpleasantness you caused.

But last spring, the sixth grade Outdoor Education trip merited only a brief mention in a parent presentation about middle school curriculum, though I did wonder at the time how what I remembered as a weeklong trip had shrunk down to a mere two nights. But when we received our official instruction sheet a few weeks ago, I realized that the prescribed student drop-off time of 6:45 a.m. on Tuesday and pick-up time of 7:45 p.m. on Thursday meant they still managed to carve out three full days of outdoor learning while taking away some of the pressure that overnights with one hundred preadolescents inevitably invokes – even if not a single one of them tumbles from a top bunk like my friend Jennifer did.

I didn’t give much further thought to Tim’s Outdoor Ed trip until last month, when we were invited to a presentation by the camp director. After listening to the agenda for the three days – nature walks, outdoor exploration, group meals, skits – I was left with a feeling of pure envy. I wanted to be in sixth grade again! At least that one week. Three days at a camp in the woods with all my friends. Was there any chance Tim and I could pull a Freaky Friday so I could be him for those few days?

I don’t think so, and I’m not sure he’d agree to that anyway. Unlike many of his friends, he’s never been to sleepaway camp, but I’ve convinced him this is the perfect way to get a taste for what that would be like: all the fun of camp but all the familiarity of the classmates he sees every day and, in many cases, has known for six years. I’m excited to find out how he likes the experience.

Except now that it’s departure day, I’m anxious. The questions the other parents asked at the March presentation seemed insignificant to me: Does the camp nurse understand asthma treatments? What kind of protein is available for vegetarians? Are the kids allowed to read after lights-out? But maybe I suppressed my own anxieties until now. Will he be okay? Sure, it’s only three days – and, more importantly, only two nights – but will he miss home? Will he feel comfortable with his friends in such ceaseless proximity? Will he take any showers at all in those three days?

Soon enough, I’ll know. He leaves for New Hampshire today; he’ll be back on Thursday night. In the meantime, all I can do is wonder how he’s doing, hope he’s okay, and learn to weather this mild sense of anxiety. Which makes sending a kid off to Sixth Grade Outdoor Education a pretty good overall metaphor for parenting. I’m learning, one step at a time.

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