Our Editor-in-Chief dropped her daughter at sleepaway camp for the first time and she is having all the feelings, but not the ones you’d expect.
For weeks, we have been preparing for my 8 year old’s first sleepaway camp experience. I religiously followed the packing list, even when certain items seemed absurd (who needs a blanket and a sleeping bag in the middle of summer in an un-air-conditioned bunk house?!?), carefully considered which sunscreen made the most sense, obsessed about how many long sleeved vs. short sleeved shirts should be packed, researched tick prevention and detection, and generally worried how this spur of the moment decision to send her away would pan out.
While I was obsessing, my daughter was carefully crossing off the days until her departure on her calendar and happily reporting to us how many days she had left before camp began. On the day we left, she woke up early and started doing the math of how many hours it would be before she would get to the campground.
It was a 90 minute drive out of Philadelphia into a part of Pennsylvania I’d never been. I was worried we’d be driving through rolling hills filled with Trump signs and trying to pay attention to my GPS, so I wasn’t thinking all that much about what lay at the end of our sojourn to Gilbertsville, PA (don’t ask me where Gilbertsville is; I’m still not entirely sure). In less than two hours, I’d be leaving her in a cabin at a campground I’d never seen before knowing we’d have little or no contact during her stay. I honestly don’t know what I was feeling on that drive, but it wasn’t sadness. Some anxiety about the unknown, maybe, and worry about her coming home infested with ticks, but sadness? Nope.
When we arrived at the camp activity center for registration and were ushered through the check in process, I watched my daughter and a friend assert their independence almost immediately. She got a small cut on her finger playing basketball and went up to a camp counselor for a band-aid, after only a cursory glance at me. She was at the front of the pack as we walked to her cabin. She bounded into the building and picked out her bunk with her friend. We made up her bunk, tucked her backpack under the bed, cajoled her into one final picture, and then, it was time to leave. I got a quick hug and an obligatory “I love you,” and headed out the door. Her back was already turned to me as she and her friend made labels for their bunk with the camp counselor.
Time to go.
As her friend’s mom and I walked back to the car, we were both a little shell-shocked. “I want to go to camp,” she said. “Maybe next year we should drop them off and do a moms retreat at the same time.” “Sign me up!” I responded. “I’m not sad; I think I’m really excited for her to have this experience. Jealous, too. Where are the sleepaway camps for grown ups?”
I don’t know what kind of feelings I expected, but judging from so many sad, teary posts from my mom friends as their kids go away to camp, I guess I thought I would have a more intensely emotional response. Instead, my daughter’s excitement was kind of infectious. Do I wish I could be a fly on the wall to see what she’s doing? 100%. But not in a supervisory way; in an – OMG, I am so happy you get to do this! – way.
A wise friend recently told my husband, who was feeling conflicted about our sleepaway camp decision, “your feelings about this are more about you than they are about camp.” And she is absolutely right. As in just about anything that involves our kids, we’re often quick to transfer our anxiety, sadness, fear, or excitement on to them while forgetting to just watch and listen to what they want and need. And, remember, our kids pick up on our fears and anxieties, too. If they see us freaking out, they trust us enough to think that perhaps they should be freaking out as well.
I’m not freaking out. And I’m not sad. I miss that kid (she’s my kid; sometimes I miss her when she’s only gone for a school day), and I hope she’s adjusting and having a great time, but I am not sad. I actually trust that she’s adjusting and having a good time. And, you know what? I don’t mind letting someone else take the reins for a while. I’ve earned a break. And so has she.
Mollie Michel is a South Philly resident and a Philadelphia public school parent. A recovering non-profit professional, Mollie is also an experienced birth doula, Certified Lactation Counselor, and the mom of two awesome girls and a sweet pit bull named Princess Cleopatra. In her spare time, she is usually trying to figure out how Pinterest works, training for a(nother) half-marathon with her dog at her side, or simply trying to keep up with her increasingly wily daughters.