Summer Camp is a Big Step for Parents, Too

On Sunday we delivered our nine-year-old daughter to the bus that will take her to sleep-away camp for the first time.  It was far from a tearful goodbye – she was first in line to get on and gave me a warm but brief hug before boarding. I smiled bravely and waved at the tinted glass windows, not knowing if she was even looking, and she was gone.

My husband, not fooled by my brisk exterior, squeezed my hand as we returned to the car with our younger two children. He had seen tears running down my cheeks as we drove across the Bay Bridge on our way to the bus stop, and of course he was feeling emotional, too. I had expected to be weepy when we parted, but I was utterly stunned by the sheer emotional heft of the experience. This long-limbed, wild-haired girl who was not so long ago a baby in my arms was on the threshold of her first major experience completely independent of me in a place and with people I didn’t know. Not only did she not need me for this – it was essential that she do it on her own. I couldn’t do it for her or protect her from getting hurt. And despite my confidence in her, that was scary.

Years ago, my dad told me that having a child meant “giving a hostage to fortune,” and I didn’t fully get it at the time, but now I know he was right. Every time we send our children out into the world, we are putting them – and by extension ourselves, at risk. The fierce love we feel for them leaves our hearts utterly exposed. Luckily we don’t really know how vulnerable becoming parents will make us when we decide to have children. As they take their first baby steps, we begin our own journey of letting go. We learn to live with our vulnerability and to keep our fears in check. We fervently hope that the values and lessons that we have been trying to teach will help to guide them. Over time we come to trust them and to trust that they will be okay, even when they fall or fail, as they inevitably will. The rest is up to them.

Before long, she’ll be home, no doubt changed by her experience. I can’t wait to see her and hear all about it. And I’m really glad that college is still years away. We both need time to get ready.

2 Comments

  1. O Hanna, too true. Our son has just started these rounds of camp with new people almost every week. I thought variety would be good for him! But every Monday I sort of hold my breath – will he have had a good time? Did I do the right thing letting him try something new? Should I have left him with all of his friends at the two room after school care place he always goes?? Good news is, so far so good. He’s having a blast – swimming like a fish!

    It’s also hard oh him because my husband and I give him nothing short of what seems like the Spanish Inquisition when he gets home. In frustration last week he said – WHY DO I ALWAYS HAVE TO TELL YOU? It finally hit me how we sounded – and I said to him that he didn’t have to tell us, but that we were just so curious what he does all day without us. We just wanted to share his fun. He calmed down a little and shared. All good stories – thus far.

    Gone are the days where you just know what’s going on. He lives a life without us already. I can’t imagine sending him to sleep away camp. Kudos to you!!

    • Thanks, Page! Yes, this letting go thing is challenging. And since we are so cut off, it is tempting to go into inquisition mode when they come home. We often go around the dinner table and have everybody (including parents) share a rose and a thorn from the day. This is both more mutual and it allows us to celebrate/appreciate something good and to empathize and support one another in a challenge. My daughter is back after a wonderful week and the details slowly emerging …..

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