A mother’s thoughts on sending a child to sleepaway camp for the first time
I prayed she wouldn’t be homesick. I spoke to her about it, constantly. I told her to enjoy every minute, not waste her time thinking of home. I was ready for that quiet are-you-there phone call, with the soft sniffling on the other end. And guess what. She is not one bit homesick. She had exactly 8 minutes to talk to me and in those 8 minutes, she spoke more than she usually does in the course of a week. I could barely keep up.
The one that is homesick is me.
Sending a child to camp is a new experience, for me. I never attended camp myself, so sending my daughter was not an easy task, as predicted. No one mentioned the ridiculous amount of items she would need. Nobody said we’d have to fit all of that into two duffel bags. Nobody explained why she’d need a box of safety pins and a lifetime supply of Gushers.
As I was standing at the bus stop, waving goodbye with wayyy too much energy and enthusiasm, inside, my heart was crying. An entire month without my eldest??? Who will notify me when we are low on milk? Who will I argue about my choice of side dish tonight (yes, couscous again, sorry dear)? And hey, who will watch the baby on Shabbos morning? But mostly, and the reason I was so sad: I wondered how I would manage an entire month without her gorgeous smile, her company, and our “girls’ time”.
As I was driving back home, I called my mother. Who else would understand? She explained to me how life is a series of separations and goodbyes. We raise our kids with the sole purpose of one day, letting them go, on their own, towards a life of their own. These little “exercises” are a healthy way of weaning into that.
The first time you leave the baby for an hour, and you rush home because you can’t bear it.
The first time you leave your baby for a 2-day period.
The first time she goes to a Morah.
The first time she steps onto that giant school bus, the huge steps daunting and so high.
The first time she goes for a sleepover, right next door, but yet so far away.
The first time she goes to Bubby for Shabbos.
The first time she goes to sleepaway camp.
These are all separations and goodbyes. Each one a milestone.
I have no idea how I will manage at her wedding.
Sending my daughter away to camp taught me a lot. It taught me how every child adds so much to the dynamics of a family; the ones left behind at home miss her just as much. I knew we would all miss her; I didn’t know to what extent.
It taught me to appreciate my child while she’s still at home and recognize what it is she brings to the table in her own quiet way. It made me think of all the parents out there who miss a child they know will never again go to camp or come home from camp.
And to be grateful for the good that I have, year-round, right here, under my nose.
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