06 August 2014

For #Blogust '14: What I Learned By Sending My Kids to Summer Camp

#Blogust 2014This post is my contribution to Blogust '14—Shot@Life’s month-long campaign to provide vaccinations for kids in need around the world. I'm writing on the theme of "Happy and Healthy Firsts."

You can help Parent Hacks unlock 500 vaccine donations by leaving a comment or clicking “Tweet” or “Like” below. (Details at the end of the post.) Thank you for supporting this important effort! -- Asha

Both my kids went to overnight camp for the first time this summer. My 11 year-old daughter went for a week, and my 14 year-old son -- on the brink of high school and tugging at the reigns -- went for a month. A MONTH.

When I made the plans for their camps earlier this year I thought nothing of sending them off. I’m thrilled by every step they take toward independence. What could be wrong with an extended period of time spent in the fresh air, surrounded by new friends, plenty of exercise, and a lack of electronics? Plus alone time for my husband and me?

That, and the big, fat scholarship my son received made summer camp a no-brainer. 

As I drove away from the camp drop-off, I had no idea I was about to experience my own surprising “first” -- my first inkling of what life will be like after my kids grow up and move out.

Parenting instinct can surprise you.

I’m not a hoverer, nor am I much of a worrier. I’m also an optimist who believes the world is generally good. As long as I trust my kids are safe I’m fine if they’re not always smiling or comfortable. So I wasn’t overly concerned with whether or not my kids would love every moment camp; no matter what, they would try something new and learn about themselves in the process. 

But about 48 hours into my son’s four-week absence, I was hit with panic. It was the visceral, lizard-brain level realization that I couldn’t reach my kid.

The camp has an emergency-only phone call policy and doesn’t circulate kid-specific pictures or updates. There would be no funny texting, no peeking at his Instagram feed, no email. Nothing except for a postcard or two if he thought to send them.

Now I don’t keep tabs on my son. Our day-to-day texting is pretty one-way: him to me. I didn’t even want to contact him; my rational self knew it wasn’t necessary and that it could interfere with his transition to camp life. But my instinctual self was a flailing mess.

It’s not as if I was worried about his safety or his emotional state...it was something much deeper. The closest I can come to describing the feeling was loss. It was as if my kid was in a place I couldn’t reach, and it felt Wrong.

After a day or two the panic faded to low-level sadness, even though I could honestly say I was thrilled my son was at camp. I slowly grew accustomed to his empty seat at the dinner table and life mostly filled in the blanks. But my initial reaction still shocked me. I never would have guessed I’d feel such a jolt of separation.

He's home now -- stronger, more mature, bursting with stories and inside jokes and new friendships. Sending him to camp was the best thing we could have done.

But I've learned it’s time to stop underestimating “empty nest syndrome.”

My tall, tan son (in the green shirt) upon his return from summer camp.
My tall, tan son (in the green shirt) upon his return from summer camp.

Childhood goes by quickly.

Man, do I hate it when people say to me, “Enjoy their childhood. It passes so quickly.” Some of those early years were anything but quick and I would be lying if I said I wish I could relive them. 

But I also suffer with the constant low-level guilt of the non-recorder. I prioritize experiencing the present over capturing its image. That sounds zen, but really it just means I forget to take pictures and write down milestones. Now the memories are fading and I’m scrambling to recall them.

My kids are about to start middle- and high school. I can’t properly express how excited I am by that. But their time away and out of touch at camp made me aware with absolute clarity that our time tumbling around the house together is limited.

My daughter, fresh off the camp bus
My daughter, fresh off the camp bus, ready for the next adventure.

I am fortunate.

I’m grateful to be able to send my kids to summer camp. Valuable as the experience has been for all of us, I know it’s also a luxury.

Another luxury of my circumstance: the easy assumption that my kids will grow up healthy.

Part of registering my kids for camp included digging through my overstuffed files for their vaccination records. There, in smudged ink, were the dates of their childhood vaccines. Each one was an easy choice to protect my kids’ futures for years to come.

Childhood vaccines shouldn’t be a luxury. Every child, no matter where he lives or what her circumstance, deserves a chance at a healthy future.

This month, we can help give 60,000 children around the world that shot at life.

* * * * *

During August 2014, every time you comment on or share this (or ANY) Blogust post, Shot@Life partner Walgreens will donate a life-saving vaccine to a child in need (up to 60,000).

My goal is for Parent Hacks to kick in 500 or more of those vaccines. That means a combined total of 500 comments and/or shares via the "Tweet" and "Like" buttons below.

Will you please take a moment to help me hit that goal?

GO! Leave a comment, and click "Tweet" and/or "Like" below.

  • Multiple comments are fine!
  • Single-word comments are fine!
  • Multiple shares are fine!

It's an ambitious number -- 500 is more comments and/or shares than any Parent Hacks post has ever received -- but I'm aiming high because I know we can do it.

Thank you for reading, and for helping change -- save -- kids' lives.

Want to do more? Comment on or share every Blogust post this month!

Your comments

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I loved this in your post: "part of registering my kids for camp included digging through my overstuffed files for their vaccination records. There, in smudged ink, were the dates of their childhood vaccines. Each one was an easy choice to protect my kids’ futures for years to come."

Exactly - and you were also protecting future for children who can't get vaccines and who depend on the rest of us to preserve herd immunity.

All for vaccines!

Yay for vaccines.

Love the stories. Been there done that. First time I left my son years ago at camp and he was sobbing as I drove away - I thought "what have I done?!?" And then when I picked him up a week later and he was so very happy and asking if he could go again next year - well, all my fears were for naught.

Aren't we fortunate our children have the advantage of camps and proper health care, including vaccines to keep them safe.

What a great post! Thanks for sharing about your first inkling of what empty nest syndrome will feel like -- this something so many moms can relate to! :)

Great post and great mission!

I am going to need to re-read this post next year when my daughter attends her first sleep away camp-- I can already tell it will be a bittersweet milestone.

Love this story. Thank you so much for sharing!

Such an important cause. Great post. Here's to your goal and surpassing the 500 shares!! I'm an empty nester and it's great!

You captured my feelings about summer camp perfectly! Love your post - and your support for #Blogust!!!! Thank you!

You captured my experience with my kids being away beautifully! This glimpse of post-parenting life, just a handful of years down the road, is shocking, both exhilarating and chilling.

Alex has been going on more and more school and church trips -- I know EXACTLY what you mean.

Happy #Blogust!!

Great post. My about-to-be-HS-senior is gone for the whole summer, and I am definitely experiencing pre-emptive empty-nest sadness. It's hard to feel like the person who has been such a priority and presence in your life for 18 years will suddenly be pretty far away. It does remind me to savor every minute while I can.

Great story and it has come at a great realization that my kids won't be young forever. I am terrible at keeping records, partly one of the reasons I started my blog, to keep track. And YAY for vaccines!!!

Thanks for sharing this story -- I'm definitely not a recorder either (but fortunately my husband is!). And thank you for participating in this Blogust!

As someone with younger kids (5 and 1), hard to imagine this feeling but know it is in the future. And thanks for supporting Shot At Life!

Such a touching post. I too have an 11 year old and a 14 year old and am realizing that "our time tumbling around the house together is limited." It is scary but has also boosted me to create more of a life and purpose outside of being a mom. Working with Shot@Life to help other children have a chance at a healthy life has been very gratifying.

Totally random but it counts as a comment so I'm going for it - it took me forever to realize "Blogust" referred to "August" - I keep thinking "why are people lusting after blogs?" Which probably means I need to get my glasses prescription checked. :)

As a new mom, reading this makes me think more of when I went off to camp - and now I wish I had sent home a few more postcards :)

Thanks so much for sharing, and lots of luck with your 500 parent hacks comments/shares!!

Living in the here and now, me too, me too ... and I feel so awful about not having up to date baby books, and journals filled with the their fabulousness. But I do have their dr baby books, filled with those all important vaccines - so I feel like I did good ;)

Love this cause!


Great post! Childhood does go by in a blink of an eye!

Great story! Our 8 year old went on her first overnight camp for 11 days. Initially she was sad when we shared the news with her but boy upon returning the wealth of first she experience and the grand memories made it a great decision.

Great post. Thanks for sharing and I hope you get to 500.

Here's to giving more kids a shot at.... tumbling around the house!

Such a sweet snapshot into empty nesting- at least a hint of it!! xo Morra

Loved your post, Asha! My oldest son at the most has spent 4 nights traveling with school or his camp so I had a tiny glimpse at what you felt. Time passes too quickly and I find myself (unlike you) taking pictures all the time because I know my memory is too weak.
May all children get a healthy shot at life! xo, jeannette

Yay vaccines!

Yay for camp!

Great post, Asha. And let's get those kiddos vaccinated!

I can relate, they grow up so fast, hopefully they'll remember all the fun things they did as kids! Great post!

My daughter is only 2 1/2, but I'm already simultaneously looking forward to and dreading sending her to camp (or some equivalent). I want her to be confident and independent, but the thought of not being able to check on her is hard to imagine. Hopefully, when that day comes, I'll be a little more prepared for it! Good for you for giving your kids this opportunity and holding strong!

Oh, and let's get those kids vaccinated!!

Yay for sleep-away camp! And vaccines! Two very important parts of my kids'lives.

It's hard to let them go. Great post!

Baby steps to empty nest land. Children grow up and leave in a twink of an eye!! Enjoy every first!!

Let's get you to 500, Asha!

Loved this post, lady!

I was reminiscing about my sleep away camps this summer, and I plan to send my oldest next year. That sense of independence is so important for them if a bit scary for me. :)

Great post and totally agree! - "Childhood vaccines shouldn’t be a luxury. Every child, no matter where he lives or what her circumstance, deserves a chance at a healthy future." We can help you reach your goal of 500 vaccines, for sure! Yay #Blogust!!

Love this post!

Great cause

CUE BETTE MIDLER! Your comments are the wind beneath my wings! Seriously...both your responses to what I've written AND the fact that we're helping kids receive vaccines...well, it's just so much goodness all at once. Thank you so, so much.

A perfect post to share with my own mother/camp advocate on her last birthday before becoming an empty nester. Thanks for sharing!

yea for vaccine access!!


Feeling so much of this along with you and so thankful for your words of wisdom and optimism. <3

Can't wait to send my kids. That sounds horrible. But I've always been a better more patient more fun more kind parent after a few hours or days break from my full time job of mom. Sounds bad but it's the truth.

oh i feel you. i too am a living-in-present person and really miss not having as many pics of my son. However, I am grateful for his vaccine record!

My son hasn't don't overnight camp yet. Thanks for the heads up on the FEELINGS i may have.

Yay science!

Marjorie: Does NOT sound bad at all. I'm the same way, which is why I've underestimated "empty nest" and all the rest. It's not that I want them to go away, it's that I need regular breaks. My experience so far is that my need for those breaks has changed as they've gotten older. I find that being the mother of older kids so much easier.

Yea for camp. Our 10 year old is there now. We got a sleepover for the 8 year old last night and had a fab date. Go vaccines.

Hoping to do my part in unlocking 500!
Though I am far from being a parent and am fully away of my mom feeling this way as I went off to college, I found this to be a great read!

My oldest starts middle school this year, and I am having a terrible time sending all three of my kids off to school (though not for another couple of weeks). It's hard not to miss them and to think about everything I'm missing while they're gone, every smile as well as every scraped knee. But you're right that every new adventure they get to undertake is also a reminder that I am so, so lucky that I can assume that they are safe. Vaccines are just one way, but a very important way, that I can send them into the world secure in the knowledge that they're probably going to be fine.

Wonderful post Asha! I agree, childhood does go way to fast. Although my kids are only 7 and 9 I still can't believe they are already 7 and 9. Thanks for supporting Shot@Life too! :)

"But my initial reaction still shocked me. I never would have guessed I’d feel such a jolt of separation." -- that surprised me, too, the first time my daughter left for more than a few days.

And I pledge to do my best to help you get to the 500 goal -- that'd be awesome.

Your kids have gotten SO BIG! I'm so happy to see you as part of this great undertaking. I use Walgreen's over other drugstores because they do this.

Commenting for a vaccine.

Great idea. Very happy to help by commenting.

I'm looking forward to sending my kids to camp some day! Thanks for your efforts to support vaccinations

I appreciated reading your comments and thank you for your support for SHOT@LIFE vaccination efforts.

Love seeing photos of your sweet kiddos. Yay Blogust! xo

Every kid deserves a shot@life. Good luck!

Great post!

Can't wait to hear more about the kiddos' experiences...and the vaccination campaign!

Becoming true empty nesters next week - all 3 kids out of or off to college so this one especially hit home for me. Luckily, all 3 are healthy too - vaccinations are a reality to so many because of this campaign. Keep the likes and shares coming so even more will get the life saving vaccines!

My kids will be going to sleepaway camp for the first time next summer. So excited for their first taste of independence!

The thought of sending my babies away terrifies me. I'm so glad they had a wonderful experience!

Just started handing in the medical evaluation forms, including vaccination records, to send my kids to school. (School? Really? Aren't they just babies?!)

Really liked this post. My kid is only 19 months so I have ways to go before camp, but really enjoyed this.

"Childhood vaccines shouldn’t be a luxury. Every child, no matter where he lives or what her circumstance, deserves a chance at a healthy future."

This is why I am a vaccine advocate, and why I am participating in #blogust.

Yay for vaccines!!

I feel the same way about my girl going on a one night overnight for her daycamp- ridiculous, I know!!! But when it seems like they are "out of your grasp", it just is what it is.

I almost forgot -- Thanks Walgreens for helping kids be safe from measles & polio!


Vaccines rock

A lovely piece. Thanks!!!

I don't like the idea of sending my son to summer camp (sleepaway) because I want to enjoy all the moments I have with him, before he goes off to the real world. I'm not giving those summers up! Plus, we are a multicultural family so the summers are for us to travel to see our families abroad.

But THANK YOU for sharing this post and supporting vaccines for kids!

Love this idea

yay for vaccines!

"The days are long but the years are short." As the mom of a soon-to-start kindergartner, I am TERRIFIED of the *idea* of sleep-away camp. Losing my kid to an easily preventable disease is far more terrifying though and I'm glad we have access to vaccines and that my son understands their importance.

I so identify with Marci, above! I'm having ALL THE FEELINGS about my oldest starting kindergarten in less than 2 weeks!!!

Great post and a wonderful cause!

Vaccinate! Vaccinate!

I had just a tiny hint of this feeling recently, when my 9&11 year olds went on the Ferris wheel at the state fair on their own. I could not believe they were all the way up there without me - happy for their brave independence, but just a little panicky Silly compared to sleep away camp, but a hint of things to come I guess.

Me too was terrified of the first camp scout of my (first) son, and the first two-week sleep-away camp of my daughter, and the first camp scout of her sister, but also of the second one and so on, in spite of every right consideration and being optimistic! Thanks for sharing for a great cause!

Love this cause!! Let's give all kids a "shot" at life!

Loved the story and the cause.

Thanks for sharing this as a part of Blogust! :)

In under the wire!

Love this cause!!!

Great post, I know just how you feel!

I'm not a hovering parent either, but eek! A MONTH! yowza. My (now 10) year old went away for a 6 day sleep away camp last summer and I was at the church 2 hours early to pick her up. They were 2 hours late. I missed her so much. I want them to learn independence, and relish in new experiences and who they are, but I want them to be with me, too ;-)

<3 you

Wonderful post. I so appreciate your blog, Asha. You were such a valuable mentor to me in college (and you look exactly the same as you did 20 years ago - beautiful! :)

So, my son is turning eight this month and just had his first sleep-over recently. You articulated that sense of 'Wrong' so well it made me shiver. I feel often like my child is more like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly than a boy becoming a man - transforming so completely every few years that I can't help but miss the previous incarnation, even while simultaneously being overjoyed at the delightful new person he's becoming.

Parenting is the most bitter-sweet experience but it's easier when we share, so thank you!

More commenting! Hope you reach your goal soon!

And one more for good measure. :)

Great cause! And great perspective

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