Sometime after midnight on the May 2-4 weekend, Scarlett, my nine-year-old daughter, crawled into bed beside me, placed her head on my pillow — and tried to nudge me awake.

“I can’t sleep,” she said, her small voice quivering. “It’s … it’s camp.”

I cracked an eyelid and rolled over, hoping a quick hug could dispense with whatever this was before it began to gush out, but I was too late. “What if it’s different?” she said. “What if it’s not fun? What if the people are no good?”

Less than four hours earlier, we’d received an email from the camp our kids are registered to attend this summer, declaring its season “Officially on!!!” And even though Scarlett had been excited by the news, I should have expected her anxiety.

Clearly, she is not the only one in our family suffering from what I call Stockholm-COVID Syndrome. Shortly after the pandemic began, I was ready to sell my kids to the highest bidder in exchange for just three uninterrupted minutes. But now, after more than a year of lockdowns, crammed ICUs, online schooling and masks, staying home no longer seems cumbersome. Rather, it seems like common sense. Especially when it comes to camp, an experience that is easy to replicate from the comfort of any home office.

OK, I know what you’re thinking. Camp is about independence. Making lifelong friends, gaining maturity. Breathing in fresh, unadulterated air. I say, pfft.

Why do they need clean air and freedom when our homes have HEPA filters and McDonald’s delivers? Why do they need towering trees and sparkling lakes to feel a kinship with nature when they have the Nature Channel? Why do they need to move a muscle when the entire world is, quite literally and more than ever these days, at their fingertips?

Case in point: at the start of online school, my kids had trouble staring at screens for hours at a time. And now they are incredible at it. Practice, as we have all said for so long, makes perfect. Our kids are now living proof.

Sure, it would be nice for them to experience the wilderness while it still exists. Get out there. Cannonball into an actual lake. Watch a marshmallow, fresh from the bag, burn and crisp on the edge of a stick, and then smear it onto a cracker with chocolate.

But today, that is no longer necessary. Our digital world makes the real one obsolete, And frankly, a little blurry.

Just last week, for instance, Hudson, my 12-year-old son, whipped up a virtual campground that’s just about as close to the “Star Trek” holodeck as I’ve ever seen. “Wow,” I said, as together we stared off into the distance of his digital vision. “Now you never have to leave home again.”

So I hear ya. No, it’s not perfect at home. But it’s time we started believing in our kids. So what if Scarlett thinks the physical universe operates like the Apple touchpad and keeps trying to pinch-to-zoom the photos on cereal boxes. Do I really care that Hudson jerks his arms like a cartoon character when he talks?

Of course not. All kids make mistakes. It is our job as parents to help them through. How better to do it than when they are safe at home with us, inside, all day, by themselves, where we can make sure the air is cleaner than it was in the dusty cabins Hudson and Scarlett showed me and my husband when we picked them up from camp a couple of years ago.

We could see the outlines of their small frames from across the expansive body of water separating our car from the lush Algonquin campgrounds. As a slow barge inched us closer to their embraces, we noticed how they were tanned and taller than they had been just weeks earlier. I’ll never forget how our worry dissolved as soon as Hudson showed us the stage where he’d been in the camp play, the remnants of the finish line he’d crossed in the camp triathlon, the kayaks he’d proudly piloted by himself and that clay thingy he’d spent so many hours shaping all on his own.

We’d almost forgotten our concerns about how, in the pictures the camp had posted online, he always had a rock on his head. Until, that is, he picked up a stone from the beach and planted it on top of what he’d learned from counsellors was his awfully flat noggin. “What a skill!” I thought at the time.

We didn’t know it then, but that rock-head thing would go on to become a staple of his young existence. Ever since, he has been balancing all kinds of things where his newborn soft spot used to be. We’re talking cups of water, shoes, stacks of books, computers, even three apples, each stacked atop another.

While Scarlett’s head didn’t turn out to be as flat as our son’s, we were amazed at all she, then seven years old, had accomplished. She came out of her shell, my little girl, joking around, swimming in the deep end. She’d learned to kick her homesickness by making new friends.

Thank heavens she’ll never have to do that again. At least, not in person, now that we have all this incredible technology, such as Zoom.

If she’s lonely this summer, sitting in the same chair she’s occupied for nearly a year during virtual school, she can simply log on and hang out with sushilover1212. And I, her mother, will feel just as proud. Because I know she doesn’t have to leave home to experience the world. All she needs is an iPhone.

And so, I sat up that dark, May night, not too long ago, tugged my pillow from under Scarlett’s sweet head and swallowed phrases such as, “It’ll be fun once you get there,” and “You’ll love it. Trust me, I’m your mom.”

Instead, I cuddled her close and said, “Please don’t go.”

Michele Henry is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star, writing health and education stories. Follow her on Twitter: @michelehenry





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