Yesterday, I dropped my 13-year-old son off at the bus that would take him away from me for seven weeks of overnight camp. The drop-off was the same as it’s been the past four years in many respects: same location; same discussion about how it’s better for him to sit behind the driver so we can wave to each other as the bus leaves the parking lot; same negotiation over who he’ll sit with on the two hour ride.
But there was one major difference this year: I didn’t cry.
In previous years, I’ve worn sunglasses to hide my worried, anxious, non-Botoxed, wrinkly upper face and tears from my camper as we hugged goodbye. After the bus departed, I would sit in the parking lot, weeping as I thought about how much I would miss him.
Apparently, I’m over that now. But, look, it’s not like I will miss him any less this year. If anything, I might even miss him more — as I told him the night before he left, I find that I like him more the longer I know him. (“Does that mean you like me more than my little sisters?” he immediately inquired. Because of course: #kids.)
But the fact of the matter is that sending my kids to camp is a blessing and a privilege — for them and for me. I feel good about them going — like, really good. Like, sit in the parked car in the driveway savoring the sounds of silence kind of good. And honestly, I don’t feel bad about how great it feels. And guess what? You shouldn’t, either.
For my older two children who go to overnight camp (one to Jewish camp, one to art camp), it’s a chance for them to spread their wings. They gain independence and get to explore their individuality. They can try new activities, new outlooks on life, new friend groups, and new skills. And they get to do it in a place that is safe and nurturing but — and this is key — one that lacks parental presence. They can experience happiness and pain, and grow from both, and they can learn that they can handle situations that they never thought they could. And they do this in nature, too — and that’s awesome.
For my 13 year old son who left yesterday to go to Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, he gets the amazing bonus of the infusion of Judaism into his bloodstream. Each summer he spends there renews his personal commitment to his faith, his people, and his community. This summer will be his first davening with tefilin and a tallis, since it’s the first summer post becoming a bar mitzvah, and I couldn’t be more proud.
And as for my four younger children at day camps? Yes, they’ll be getting many of the same lessons, albeit on a smaller scale. Three of them will work on their swimming. The oldest one will get to do boating, horseback riding and maybe even be in a play. The two in the middle will learn new sports, do arts and crafts and participate in daily dance parties. And the youngest one, at the camp run by her Jewish nursery school, will sing songs in Hebrew and English, run around on a splash pad and savor the first summer she has graduated from diapers (THANK GOD). So they’re all spoken for and they’re all having an amazing time.
But let’s get real here: Mama needs a break, people. Mama needs a break to do things like “work” and “have polysyllabic conversations” and “go to the bathroom alone.” Those two weeks between school ending and camp beginning, with three kids age 5 and under, nearly killed me. I wish I were exaggerating. I’m a 45-year-old parent of six children, and, TBH (as the kids say), there are only so many days a crypt-keeper like me can start the day at 5:30 am and end it at 7:30 pm in Mary Poppins-mode — “Hey, kids! Let’s have a water balloon relay race, and then color, and then visit a sick neighbor, and then…” — while trying to do those pesky little things like “work,” “pack for camp,” “pay bills,” and “prepare food.”
Please insert the usual caveats here about how OBVIOUSLY I love my kids, OBVIOUSLY I love being a mother, and OBVIOUSLY being with them is a blessing — especially at a time when parents and their children are deliberately separated within our own borders. But, then, let’s also acknowledge that sometimes it’s really freaking exhausting to constantly deal with little kids with no personal space whatsoever, including while defecating. Perhaps this is especially true when there are so many of them (children, not poops — wasn’t relaxed enough to accomplish many of those), but I’m convinced even one can take up a lot of emotional space (again, one kid, not one poop).
Camp is good for everyone, folks. It’s great for kids and it’s great for parents. Let’s own it, enjoy it, cast off the guilt and savor the summer.