Last year, when we went to pick up my then-8-year-old from his first summer at overnight camp, my then-6-year-old insisted that he wanted to go to camp the following summer. Never mind that, at the time, the only sleepovers that said 6-year-old had experienced were at his grandparents’ house, or that occasionally he still clung to me when I dropped him off at a birthday party or friend’s house.
After all, at camp there was a pirate ship playground, plans for a new water slide, and an enthusiastic, talkative older brother regaling us with tales of Maccabi games, superhero costumes, and toasted marshmallows. What more could a 6-year-old want?
After confirming (and then double confirming) that any deposit that we put down for my younger son could be transferred to cover my older son’s fees, my husband and I figured, “Why not?” Yet, even as I filled out the application, I thought it was highly unlikely that my youngest would actually go to camp the following summer.
Fast forward through the fall and winter months, where the topic of summer camp largely took a back seat to days filled with homework, afterschool activities, holiday celebrations, sports, family visits, and the seemingly endless logistics of a two-kids, two-working-parents household.
As the temperature began to warm and we found ourselves thinking of camp once again, I was surprised that my now-7-year-old was still talking about going to overnight camp with his brother. I had thought that as the afternoon we spent at camp during pick-up faded from his memory, so too would his desire to go. Yet, this was not the case.
After a long conversation with the camp’s assistant director, I learned that wanting Cocoa Puffs for breakfast on Shabbat and a ride down a waterslide are perfectly valid reasons for a 7-year-old to want to go to camp; that I could sign him up for one week and then he could choose to extend if he wanted to stay longer; that he and his brother could be in a bunk together—something that fortunately, my older son wanted as well; that there is a very high staff to camper ratio; and that he is not the only camper who might need a little extra attention and TLC. So, we decided to let him go.
My son has since practiced showering and dressing by himself, and talks with excitement about all of the things he will do at camp. Part of me worries that as it gets closer to drop-off day, there will be a moment when he suddenly understands that I won’t be there to tuck him in at night, or to hug him if he is feeling sad—but then another part of me realizes that maybe these are my own fears and not his.
I’ve come to the conclusion that in this instance, it is my job as a mother to follow my son’s lead, to let him try new things, and to not let my worries hold him back. Perhaps he will love camp, decide to stay longer, and come home with newfound independence and confidence. Perhaps he will find that after a week, he is ready to come home. Either way, he will have taken a big step, and I will have given him the freedom to do so. I will have let him learn on his own—even if it winds up being difficult—instead of drawing conclusions for him about what he is and is not capable of doing.
It is this thought that I hold onto as we pack his bags, trying to push away other thoughts of him being too young or not ready. I guess only time will tell if this is the right decision. Until then, I will continue labeling clothes, self-addressing envelopes, and hoping that the full bottles of soap and sunscreen going into his bag actually come home emptier.
And then I will move on to the next item on my agenda—figuring out what my husband and I are supposed to talk about for at least a week when we won’t need to discuss who is picking up the kids from where.