“Who sends a seven year-old to camp?”
I start with this question because I got it a lot when I made the decision to send my daughter for her Elfin summer — and I repeatedly asked it of myself when I was packing her trunk. “Who sends a seven year-old off to camp?”
But the decision to do it was actually very easy: my daughter has always had a daring spirit and when she heard that there were places for kids to go adventuring by themselves away from their families, she was thrilled. My husband and I could have said, “No, wait until you are older,” but we wanted to encourage her. We were frank with her about the challenges — yes, she would probably have moments of wanting to go home. That was normal. How was she going to handle it? we asked. She would talk to her counselor, she said, and find something to keep her busy. Good plan, we said. At worst, we told her, you’ll have ten days that were harder than you expected but you will come home proud that you tried something new.
Her ten days as an Elfin were magic. She did not want to come home at the end. I believe that her age actually helped her. Seven year-olds are adaptable, and so much more capable of living in the moment even than nine or ten year-olds are. She was not yet able to project too far into the future or waste time imagining worst-case scenarios. My hope is that by giving her such a positive experience at this stage we are helping her to strengthen that optimism and positive outlook as an indelible part of her character.
“Your daughter wears a uniform to camp? What kind of place is this?”
Actually, Hive’s uniform standard was one of the selling points for me. As the mother of daughters I am constantly battling materialism, early sexualization, and the kind of caste system that emerges among girls based on what they wear. The Hive uniform eliminates ninety percent of those problems before the kid opens the car door her first day. Uniforms do the opposite of taking away individuality — they encourage girls to see beyond the superficial and to meet each other as they really are.
My daughter has great pride in her Hive uniform — it identifies her as part of the Hive family. It contributes to her sense of Hive as a special place away from other places, where she wears clothes she only wears there. The one uniform piece she wears at home is her green Hive fleece. I have noticed she wears it on days when she has a test or something scary coming and wants to remind herself of how strong and capable she is — and of the great people who are backing her.
“How can you stand to have her gone so long?”
The first summer, I really suffered. I walked around with my cell phone plastered to my palm, just in case she might need me. The second summer I started out like that, but it quickly proved exhausting. She was a Lolander now and would be gone three weeks. At some point I realized I was going to have to actually separate — stop thinking about her, stop worrying about her, live my life at home and know that she was good and safe where she was. My husband and I took advantage of the opportunity to focus on the two younger children, spending our weekends doing all the “kiddie” activities their older sister would find boring. It was a neat time, and the two youngest kids had a chance to really get to know each other and were much closer by the end. The time apart was good for all three of them, who discovered they missed each other and appreciated each other more because of it.
The separation was also good for her parents.
Letting your child grow up is hard. While a seven or eight year-old is by no means ready to be on her own, she is ready for more independence than her parents may easily accept. Time away from her gave us a chance to view her with fresh eyes when she came home — to see her as her counselors and tent-mates had seen her, and to start thinking about ways to help her be more self-sufficient at home. But, perhaps more subtly, we started to really see her as separate — a person with her own interests and ideas, and her own story.
“What does she get out of camp that she can’t get at home?”
A favorite Chinese proverb: “Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.”
I can teach my daughter how to be a woman, and I can teach her to be a member of our family. But I can’t teach her how to be of her generation. I can’t teach her how to be in the world without me. So part of my job is exposing her to people of her generation I want her to learn from. That is perhaps Hive’s greatest gift.
I have yet to meet a Hive counselor I wasn’t impressed by. I have adored both of my daughter’s tent counselors. They are smart and funny, passionate and capable. Most importantly, they are nurturers. They take great pride in the responsibility to help girls grow into fierce, independent, capable women. In these counselors, my daughter has role models and people to whom she can turn for comfort and encouragement.
It is obvious that the questionnaires we fill out before camp are carefully read: Both summers my daughter has been placed in tents with girls with whom she shared some interests, and also whose strengths and weaknesses balanced each other. At the encouragement of the camp, before she left I talked to my daughter about goals for her summer, both practical (learn to canoe) and spiritual (work on skills for managing test anxiety). The letters we got from her counselor during the summer updated us on her work and provided details about how her test anxiety was manifesting and what tricks they were trying for tackling it.
I practice these skills at home with her — but the part about her learning to do it without me absolutely must happen away from me. And when it comes to choosing the best “away from me” Hive has been a life-changing gift for my daughter.
Hive offers her a version of the world where a woman’s value is weighed in her character and determination, her self-discipline and leadership skills, and her compassion for herself and others. Hive nurtures those things along with a responsibility to pass them on — and a bright hope for a world in which all women are valued this way.
Elizabeth has been a Hive mom for two years, and was a Hiver herself in the 1980s.