By: Julie Kaiden
Confession. I never went to sleepaway camp. I know I know. But I didn’t. I grew up where everyone went to summer camp – and I didn’t go. I never ever felt like I was missing out. Even when my friends would come home with their stories. Even when I’d meet their camp friends. I was good.
Maybe I was nervous to be away from home? Maybe it was because I always needed to go home from a sleepover during the night? I’m not sure. I just know I was home. And fine. I loved day camp and teen tours. It just never occurred to me that I missed out on anything.
Fast forward – years go by. I still don’t think about my non sleepaway camp years. I meet my husband – which to be fair – is just about my polar opposite as you can get. Of course he went to camp. Forever. And loved it (he also loves clowns and cold weather so I didn’t put too much stock in this). We have conversations about our pretend married life and family. “Our kids will go to sleepaway camp,” he says. “If they want to,” I say. If???!!!
We get married. We have 2 kids. The sleepaway camp conversation starts to come up again. Why is this such a thing? A friend refers me to Summer 365 because I was not even sure where to start. For a plethora of reasons, we were not going to send our son, our oldest, to where my husband went. We were recreating the wheel so to speak. I connected with Lauren. She got it. She understood where I was coming from and what I was looking for, or maybe what I wasn’t looking for. We laugh now because if she looks at her notes from our first phone call – I said, verbatim – “Thinking about him leaving me makes me want to die.”
If I think back, I can still feel that. I really meant it, I probably still mean it a little. The thought that he was going to leave me for 7 weeks physically made me hurt. How could this be? Again – my husband was the calm sounding board speaking about of course he was going to go, and he was going to love it. Which I didn’t doubt. But what about me? Was I going to love it?
I’m sure you are on the edge of your seat wondering how I did. I’ll spare you the details. But those first few weeks were miserable. My sweet daughter didn’t have her big brother around, and I was so sad and missed him oh so much.
Then visiting day came. I wish I could properly do it justice. But I could never find the words to eloquently describe it. He shined. He was in his element. He was so at ease. And happy. He was still sweet and loved his hugs and hand holding. And owned it. But he just took those 3 weeks and soared. It was the first time where I felt like I could loosen that invisible string a bit. He’s ok. Actually, he was so much more than ok. Maybe I can do this? Visiting day of course stirs up so many emotions that I was determined to keep from him. On one hand, I was floored how ecstatic he was and it made leaving him that day a little easier. But on the other hand – I got to see him and wanted more. If you give a mouse a cookie….
When that day was winding down and parents were getting ready to leave, he of course grew a little more quiet and the smile felt a little more forced. Finally, in a soft but firm voice he said, “I just need you to hug me and walk away. I will be fine”. Spoiler alert – I reallllly didn’t want to walk away but my husband made me. He was telling us exactly what he needed. I was such a proud parent that day – but was really proud of myself ;)
Driving home we had some time to process our day. He seemed really great. I couldn’t think of too many other times (maybe when the Mets finally made it to the World Series??!) where he just exuded this much happiness, and confidence, and independence. The big realization was truly – maybe I wasn’t ok – but he most certainly was. He was at his place, the right place. At camp there is just magic. In the crazy world we live in, he can just be a kid. And focus on the fun. And feel part of something. And know he can be on his own, and make his own decisions – some smart, some maybe not so smart – but all part of the growing up process. This is for sure, a thing.
This summer my youngest is starting there with him. I am determined to not let myself become a total disaster (it’s good to have goals, right?!) with both of them gone (what Summer 365 likes to call being camptynester™). I’m actually excited for them that they will have each other and be able to share this magic together.
I have always found so much truth to “it takes a village”. It most certainly does. It takes an entire village to raise a child. And I’m so incredibly grateful their sleepaway camp is part of mine.