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Jun 17 2013

Before You Know It, You’re Sending Your Grandkids Off to Camp

By at 9:54 am

boy jumping off dock sleepaway campFirst they leave your body, then they leave your breast, then your bed.

The next thing you know they’re on a bus to sleep-away camp.

Adina Soclof’s recent piece about sending her child off to camp resonated with me.

Only I will be sending my grandsons off to camp. Well, actually, their parents will be.

I just can’t believe it. I vividly remember standing at the bus stop sending their mom, my oldest child, off to camp. I didn’t feel teary but I felt disoriented, almost confused. Why weren’t I and my husband going off to camp? It really seemed like we should have been getting on that bus. We, who met at sleep-away camp when I was 16-years-old, he 17.

Camp is as close to paradise as a kid or teenager could wish. Some of my most wonderful memories involve camp, including my first boyfriend, my first kiss, and being the counselor “on-duty” the night of the first moon landing. After watching on a snowy pictured TV with poor reception, I walked out into the still night and looked up at the moon. There were people up there! It was breathtaking. (Definitely more breathtaking than that first kiss.)

The first Visiting Day that we went up to see my daughter, with her three siblings in tow, was a blast. People I had gone to camp with were there visiting their children! An old friend and I saw each other and literally ran to embrace. Then my daughter looked at my husband, bewildered, and asked him, “Why is Mommy hugging and kissing that man?”

That’s the best thing about camp. You have such intense experiences with people who often turn into lifelong friends. They are the people who know your essence, to whom you will always be just you, not the successful, or failed, professional you may have turned at to be. They are the people who know your story, the people who don’t have to ask questions. And even if you don’t see them for decades, the feelings you were left with the last time you parted remain.

We never did get over the feeling that it was we who should have been in camp when we visited our kids. But the novelty of the first Visiting Days did wear off and though we spent many a hot summer Visiting Day in camp with our kids, too soon they began to give us a quick hug hello… only to spend the rest of the day with their friends. But we understood. We had done the same to our parents.

It’s true–your children’s childhoods go very fast and rites of passage like the first time your kid goes to summer camp have a bittersweet poignancy. So I am a bystander to a rite of passage for my grandsons and for my daughter, too. I hope she remembers her own great times and friendships from camp and anticipates the same for her boys. I hope she has as wonderful a time as I did on that first Visiting Day. And I hope she’ll hold onto all these moments, knowing that sooner than she thinks, she will be looking back as she sends her own grandchildren off to camp with extra canteen money (as I am).

But although I am a very involved grandmother, and the boys are very close to me, don’t ask me to shlep packages up to the country and sit around in a hot, buggy bunk on Visiting Day. Because then, if I see people I went to camp with, the odds are they will have aged so much that I won’t recognize them. And worse, they won’t recognize me.

Then I’ll cry.

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