If you grew up in a Jewish, upper-middle-class household, you likely spent your summers at sleepaway camp. As a child, it never occurred to me that some kids stayed home all summer. If you met someone, you might ask, “Where do you go to camp?” but you would never ask, “Do you go to sleepaway camp?” Because you already knew the answer, yes.
At camp, you met “camp friends” whose “home friends” were likely at a different sleepaway camp with your “home friends.” I remember saying to my father, “Can you believe that? It’s such a big coincidence!” but he explained, “Not really. There are only so many affluent Jewish towns in the country. And only so many camps for those kids to go to.” So then I understood. It was one more way for us, the minority, to preserve our sense of community. We could go far away and still find people like us, who knew our traditions and understood our culture.
Like most kids I knew, camp was my home away from home. I made friends who were my sisters. I became confident, secure, and independent in ways I never was at home. I tried archery and flying trapeze. I learned how to use a tampon.
With everything I was unsure about when I became a parent, one thing I knew for certain was my kids would have that too. They would go to camp. They would find themselves. They would get to escape reality every summer. In summer, there would not be social media or scary news headlines. There would just be camp.
Unfortunately for me and fortunately for my daughter, that time is now here. My first baby is off to camp this summer. During the day, I join her excitement, telling her how amazing it will be because it will be.
But each night after she goes to bed, I can’t quite breathe deeply and can’t think straight. My stomach is tied in knots. We’ve never been apart for more than one night since the moment she was conceived. She is part of my being. I need her here. Safe. With me.
Letting our kids go when all we want to do is hold them tighter will always be the most challenging part of motherhood for me. I want to know everything she does each day and everyone she talks to. I want to help her make every decision. I want to brush her hair after she showers and lay in bed with her each night, chatting about life.
We teach our children that feeling two things at once is okay. We can want to do something but still be anxious about it. We teach them that it’s perfectly normal to be excited and scared simultaneously. She can have the best time of her life and miss home.
Sometimes it’s hard for us, as parents, to listen to our own advice. I can be thrilled for my daughter and know the value of this experience for her. And I can also struggle with how quickly she’s growing up and want to hold on a little longer, a little tighter.