A Week at Summer Camp and I'm Okay

He'll be fine. Really.

He'll be fine. Really.

When I was 11, my mother put me on a bus with a bunch of strangers who would soon become my friends. By the time we arrived at camp on Cape Cod, five hours from my home, the butterflies in my stomach had disappeared. After all, I’d found someone else who could blow a bubble inside a bubble with a big wad of gum. And so, I knew that everything would be alright. And for three summers until the camp closed for good, it was alright.

It wasn’t my first time at camp either; I’d been to two other camps beginning when I was nine when I went to my mother’s alma mater, Camp Otsego, in Cooperstown. After two weeks, I called my parents to ask if I could stay another week. And then I did that every week until I ran out of summer.

When the camp closed before the next summer, I went to another camp in the Adirondacks where my cousin was in the boys’ camp. I reported home that he’d cut his bangs himself — diagonally, as though he’d been on a crab fishing boat in the Bering Sea during a winter storm at the time.  Otherwise, everything was alright.

So when people ask me how I’m doing since my 12-year-old left for Boy Scouts Camp yesterday — his first overnight camp — I shrug. And then I get annoyed. I keep forgetting that it should somehow concern me that he’s away without me. But here’s the thing:

It’s for just one week with a bunch of kids he knows from home at a camp no farther from our house than many people commute to work every weekday.

When I was at camp, four French Canadian kids who barely spoke English were sent there — to another country — for eight weeks. And they were six-years-old.

Really now. My son can handle it. And so can I.

But every time some well-meaning mom or dad asks me how I’m doing since my son left for camp 24 hours ago, I start to wonder if something is wrong with me. Everyone else seems to think that I should be home wringing my hands, while I simply can’t wait to hear when he returns about how much fun his week was. Bonus: Less laundry while I wait.

We are a protective generation of parents, perhaps sometimes a bit overprotective. And when you don’t fall in line with what other parents are thinking, it can make you wonder if your radar is off.

But when I think back to my days (months) in camp, I remember how stinkin’ fun it was, and then I remember that it’s okay not to worry about my son. He’s a Boy Scout, after all. He’s been trained to live in the woods. Also, he can blow a bubble inside a bubble with a big wad of gum.

Everything, I assure you, will be alright.

No responses to “A Week at Summer Camp and I'm Okay”

  1. Mary Ellen

    My mother sent me off to camp 240 miles away for two months at the age of 6. To this day (50 years later) I often say, “WHAT WAS SHE THINKING??” At the same time I realize it was the best thing she ever did for me. I went to that camp every summer for the next 18 years (yes, I really WAS 24 when I stopped going to camp, but by then I was the Head Counselor!!). When I look back on my childhood, the most important things I learned in life, I learned at summer camp. I hardly remember a name from high school or college. I remember every name of all of my countless tentmates. Skills I leaned at camp profoundly influenced my choice of career. I cried bitterly the day the camp closed. Of yeah – I forgot to mention. The camp was Camp Otsego, Cooperstown NY.

  2. denise

    Thanks for the advice. I do need to work more on developing my life outside of my daughter. I’ve been going to a friend’s house to make cards sometimes. Volunteering at the kangaroo exhibit at the zoo. Visiting some elderly relatives and helping them around the house. Spent today browsing arts and crafts shows. There is a plenty for me to do while she is gone and I’m really going to focus on working on those things. I know deep inside she is going to be fine, i’m the only one who is going to be this torn about the separation. Denise

  3. Deb

    Parents give both roots and wings. Congratulations on handing out the wings this summer! Hope your son has fun flying.

  4. Lisa

    Denise: my daughter is at her dad’s, this summer for 8 weeks. We’re very close, and I love the time we spend together… we have so much fun! But I’ve decided that this summer is for ME to spend time doing things that I usually don’t. I’m taking singing lessons, and I got a massage last week. I am enjoying the flexibility to make last-minute plans (normally I need to go straight home from work to pick her up on time). I have plans to go out for a drink with a friend one night this week, and another next week. I went camping the night she left, and I’ve been doing a lot of hiking (we started letterboxing together, but I enjoy it more than she does, so I found some other adults to go with and I had two long days out in the woods last weekend).

    What have you always wanted to do, but never seemed to get around to? Do you have any interests that your daughter does NOT enjoy, and can you take some time to get more involved in those while she’s gone? When she comes home and tells you about the fun she had, have your own stories to share too!

  5. morninglightmama

    Awesome post– I don’t know when my son will go to an overnight camp, but I imagine it’s in his future. I also imagine that I’ll be somewhere in the middle– missing him, but wishing him a fantastic time. I was a nervous kid, so I don’t have the fond memories of being away from home, since my own personal butterflies never really left me, but I absolutely don’t want that for him, so I guess that I’ve got to keep any anxieties that I have well-hidden!

    Thanks for a great post!

  6. Lenore Skenazy

    This is bracing to read. Next week my son is going off to HIS first week of overnight camp, probably at the very same Boy Scout camp and I hope/figure I’ll feel the same way as Jen. Of course, unlike her, I HATED my two weeks at overnight camp. Hated them so much that whenever I hear the hit song from that era, “Close to You,” by the Carpenters now, about 40 years later, I STILL think, “Wow. I have never been as sad as I was that summer.”
    BUT ANYWAY…I’m sending him off and hopefully he will end up having a great time.
    Or at least a far less bad time than this mom.
    Lenore “Free-Range Kids” Skenazy

  7. Liz

    I admire you. I would love to have just a little piece of that confidence that everything will be fine at camp. My mind goes to all of the extremes that could happen and none of them are good.

    I am sure your son will have a blast and I hope that i can send my kids off one day when we can afford sleep away camp again. ;)

  8. Beck

    It’s my child’s job to grow up and it’s my job to miss her. My girl is off at summer camp this week, too, and I cried myself to sleep last night – but I still let her go. Her job isn’t to protect my feelings by not growing up, and it’s my job to let her grow up regardless of how much it hurts. But I saw a picture of her today – grinning at me from the backseat on the way to camp – and all I could think of was how far away Saturday is.

  9. admin

    Denise: I can tell how hard this is for you. I’m very close to my boys, too, and I feel a little lost when they’re not here. But I know that it’s my job to raise them to leave me, and so I try to let go more and more as they get older.

    Also important is for moms like us to have things that aren’t just about the kids. This is a great time for you to start a hobby or go to the movies with girlfriends. Find Denise again inside the mom you are, and it’ll be good for both you and your daughter.

    Jen Singer

  10. denise

    i am one of those hand-wringing, i-miss-my-girl moms who can’t let go. would appreciate any advice to help. my 12-year-old spends 4 weeks with her dad spread out over the summer and three weeks at various camps. i get beside myself and i don’t know what i will do when she gets to camp and can’t call me on her cell phone. how can i get myself motivated to work on things like organizing the house, or simply the linen closet, while i have all of this time to myself? we have a close relationship, but maybe it’s too close if i miss her THIS much when she is gone.

  11. Stephanie

    I agree with you totally…I let my boys go do many things that other parents look at me funny for….I love my boys dearly but I can’t keep them in bubble wrap…the world is a wide and wonderful place…sure sometimes they will fall and I am there to pick them up, dust them off and set them back on the path…they will be wonderful men someday…

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