I went to the same sleepaway camp for three summers, starting when I was eleven years old, and they remain to this day the best, and most formative, summers of my entire life. There’s just something about the combination of being away from your parents, living in a small space with ten other girls, and being cared for by teenagers that makes for an incredibly character-building experience. Because of my summers at camp, I think I’m more independent, more self-sufficient, better able to navigate different kinds of personalities, and, I am an expert in the art of the shaving cream fight. So naturally, when I had kids of my own, I always insisted that they would go to sleepaway camp when they were old enough, and furthermore, they would go to my camp. Never mind that I live in Los Angeles now, and that my camp is in Pennsylvania. Never mind that you have to go for seven weeks. Never mind that almost every one who goes there lives on the east coast. Camp Kweebec is the best camp ever (actually, EVER), and that is where my kids will go. End of story.
Cut to: my daughter leaves in less than two weeks. Let’s just say that I’m slightly more conflicted than I thought I’d be when I came up with this cockamamie scheme twenty years ago. Because twenty years ago, I didn’t understand that sending your nine year-old daughter off to the other side of the country for seven weeks is like sending your liver off for the summer. She’s such a part of me, I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like without her. And whenever I try to imagine it, I get all teary and weepy, and I feel like I’m going to throw up. But at the same time, I’m so proud of her. I may have planted the seed that she could go to my camp (okay, I knew she would fall in love with it when I took her to visit last summer), but the decision was all hers. She decided that she wanted to go somewhere five thousand miles away, for nearly the entire summer. She decided that she wasn’t afraid to go to a camp where she doesn’t know a single kid, because she was excited to make all new friends. She decided to make a calendar that counted down the days until camp and rip off a new page every single morning. As a mom, isn’t that exactly how I want her to be? Isn’t that the type of self-sufficiency and independence and confidence that I’m trying to instill in her by sending her to camp in the first place? It is. I know it is. But I still want to throw up.
Part of my anxiety over sending her away is that I’m worried about how she’ll come back. Right now we get along great and she loves being with me, but she’s at that very tender age where any minute she could cross over into tweendom, with all of it’s accompanying eye rolls and embarrassment at every little thing I say or do. I feel like I should savor every minute that she still likes me, and yet here I am, giving up seven entire weeks – summer weeks, no less. Sometimes I think that maybe I should have made her wait a few more years (when she’s eleven and hormonal, I’m sure I’ll be glad to be rid of her), but deep down, I know that she’s ready to go now. Keeping her here – bored and at a day camp she’s completely outgrown – would just be selfish.
A friend of mine who I was whining to about this recently had a great line. She said that when you think about it, we’re not trying to raise kids. We’re trying to raise adults. So as hard as it is for me to let her go, she assured me that I’m doing the right thing, because by sending my daughter to camp, I’m giving her an opportunity to learn some of the life skills that will make her a better, healthier adult. There’s no doubt that giving up my sweet, delicious daughter for the summer is a huge sacrifice for me. But the gift I believe I’m giving to her by letting her go is one I’m sure I will never regret.