I must preface this with two things: first, aside from a few very lame, 1970s day camps and a couple short weekends away at Girl Scouts camp in the early 1980s, I never went away for real sleep away camp as a kid. (You know, the kind where you go away for two weeks at a time.) And second, I love my children. Both of them. Unconditionally.
With that said, I have to admit that as a mother of two teens, I think I appreciated my children (who I love more than life itself) even more this summer when we had a little time apart. Before you start throwing poop emojis at me, please allow me to explain. We have a 16 year old boy and a 13 year old girl. It’s not easy raising teens, but we try our best. When your children become teens, something changes. Some days, they’re amazing, independent, and well-behaved. Others, you swear they morph into aliens. Aliens living inside your children’s bodies. They look like your children. They sound like your children. They even smell like your children.
But they aren’t the same people who liked you a few years ago.
When our daughter asked if she could go to sleep away camp this summer, we were a little apprehensive. We were also impressed that she had no qualms about going away for two weeks without knowing anyone. Some of her friends had signed up for earlier sessions, but she insisted that she would be fine.
“I’m excited about camp. It’ll be fun, Mom.”
I realize there are many parents who send their kids off for camp a month or two at a time. But sleepaway camp was a totally new experience for her. And for us.
The day we dropped our daughter off at sleep away camp, I felt a sensation in my stomach that can only be described as mush. Mushy fish guts that have been sitting on the counter for three days.
“Were we bad parents for letting her do this?”
“No wi-fi for two weeks? Now that’s a plus,” I thought (as I checked my iPhone for Facebook updates and skimmed a text from a friend.)
“Did she pack enough socks?”
“Did we leave the mosquito repellant on the counter?”
“Will she like it?”
“Will she make friends?”
“Can we pick her up next week if she doesn’t like it?”
I was annoying myself with all the questions rolling around my head. You can only imagine how my husband felt about my seemingly exaggerated apprehension.
Well, I’m sorry, not sorry. I’m a mom. And this was new for me. I get it. So very Smotherly Mrs. Goldberg of me.
I’ve gone my entire life seeing my kids every day, aside from an occasional sleepover. And not seeing my kid for two weeks was giving me heart palpitations. But we got in the car and drove across the state. When we reached the exit to the campgrounds, we waited in a line of cars for another 45 minutes. I didn’t know whether I needed to pee or cry more.
As we carried a plastic trunk filled with her belongings to her cabin, I noticed there were dozens of girls her age walking around in flip flops. With smiles on their faces. The beach was 100 feet away. Music was blasting. And a campfire was smack in the middle of everything.
Forget my kid, I wanted to stay!
I was about to take five goodbye selfies, and my daughter politely begged me, “Please mom, no photos.”
“Please don’t social this.”
I have to admit, she had a good point. Sometimes, you just need to experience the moment.
So I put on a fake brave mom face, hugged her goodbye and kissed her on the cheek.
I tried my best to not act like Mrs. Goldberg in front of her new cabin-mates.
When no one was looking, I snapped a photo of her cabin from a distance, just in case I needed something to look at over the next two weeks. No people, just the cabin, which looked smaller and smaller the farther I walked away. Kind of like my brave face, which disappeared and turned to quiet tears.
A few hours later, my husband and I were alone in the house. My son texted that he was at his friend’s until curfew. So we turned on some Pandora. Ordered some pizza. Grabbed a beer. And celebrated our temporary independence.
It sure was quiet without the kids around. My husband and I both work from home. And the first free day we had when my daughter was away? After I sent off a care package to her camp? Let’s just say we acted like we were 21 again. For the first time in a long time, we didn’t have to worry about anyone else. While our son was off to the beach with friends, we reminded ourselves that life is short. And sometimes, you’ve got to follow Tom Cruise’s friend’s advice and say what the eff.
So, what did we do?
We biked to the beach.
We drank cocktails by the pool.
We went out for sushi.
We talked and laughed. And laughed and talked.
Although I was a mess that first week, we enjoyed the time alone.
We had meals out and meals in together. I barely did any laundry or dishes. We just hosted a few pool parties and did some ubering for our teenage son and his friends.
For the most part, it was quiet.
And kind of odd without her here.
So after the two weeks were up, we hopped in the car, took the campground exit and waited in the same line. When I searched through the crowd of campers and parents, my heart skipped the moment I saw our daughter run from her cabin straight to our arms. She may be 13, but she will always be our little girl. Although it was nice to have a little break, I have to admit, the saying is true: Absence does make the heart grow fonder.