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!

Comments

  1. says

    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.

  2. Delores Van Horn says

    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.

  3. The Motherhood says

    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! :)

  4. says

    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.

  5. Allison says

    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.

  6. says

    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.

  7. says

    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!!!

  8. chocolatetort says

    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!

  9. DCMom says

    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.

  10. says

    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. :)

  11. karin hope says

    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 :)

  12. says

    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 ;)

  13. Donna says

    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.

  14. says

    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

  15. says

    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!

  16. Gwen says

    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. :)

  17. Heidi says

    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!!

  18. Asha Dornfest (Parent Hacks) says

    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.

  19. Lee says

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

  20. Marjorie LC Wheeler says

    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.

  21. says

    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.

  22. Asha Dornfest (Parent Hacks) says

    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.

  23. Betsy says

    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.

  24. Khadija says

    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!

  25. Kendra says

    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.

  26. says

    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! :)

  27. says

    “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.

  28. ML says

    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!

  29. Kate E says

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

  30. says

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

  31. Charity says

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

  32. says

    “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.

  33. says

    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.

  34. says

    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!

  35. Marci says

    “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.

  36. Jen w. says

    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.

  37. Gemma says

    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!

  38. says

    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

  39. says

    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!

  40. Asha Dornfest (Parent Hacks) says

    Carisa, you have made me tear up. Thank you for saying what you did…COLLEGE. Man! Isn’t that amazing?

  41. Hope Long says

    I well remember both of these experiences – sending my children to summer camp, AND scrounging to find their shot records. I was pretty adamant that my children would get to experience camp, because I always thought summers at camp included some of the defining moments of my childhood. How lucky your – and our – kids are to get to experience all camp has to offer.

  42. Dawn Brown says

    I can relate to this! My youngest daughter will be 21 in a bit, and I know that even though she is busy with her friends and job, and isn’t home much now,she will be leaving the nest soon. She won’t have to check in, if she doesn’t want to, or be home at a particular time. I hope I can handle my last little girl leaving the only home she’s ever known! Love & blessings!

  43. Amber Whitworth says

    What a great thing! Summer camp, and this opportunity to help give vaccines to kids. I feel crazy good about commenting. Thank you for making a difference!

  44. Sarah S says

    My daughter is young and I miss out on taking my pictures always thinking I will remember this moment forever. But already I feel the memories slipping.

  45. says

    Goodness, I couldn’t wait to grow up when I was a child! And I certainly do NOT wish that I could relive those years! However, I’m getting tired of my nephews and goddaughters shooting up another couple inches between my visits. Then again, the older they get, the more interesting (and interested!) they become, and we can talk about cartoons, trees, and all sorts of stuff they couldn’t talk about the first time I held them.

  46. wendy says

    my daughter goes to Girl Scout camp every summer and it’s such a great experience for my thoughtful introverted art girl. she really shines at camp. :-)

  47. Erica says

    I can only imagine what this will feel like – mine are still little – but I think I will need a strong support system when mine go to sleep away camp!

  48. says

    I’ve been there. My son went off for 3 weeks of Scout Jamboree last year. I at least had a few Facebook updates from the leaders and I think one phone call, but it was interesting how weird it felt to have my son clear on the other side of the country. But yes, we do take the assumption that our kids will be healthy just as a fact and so many parents find out differently. I can’t imagine how difficult that would be if it was something totally preventable with just a tiny little shot.

  49. Yolanda says

    Wow. I think your daughter had t even started school when I started reading here. Time waits for no one. Happy Anniversary.mcongrats on all the milestones and thank you for supporting this cause and allowing us to do our teeny part, too.

  50. Kris V says

    Looking forward to sending my kids to a camp. And, I have a ton of scrapbook STUFF to record thing but don’t make the time to do it. *sigh*

    p.s. WOOT for vaccines!

  51. Asha Dornfest (Parent Hacks) says

    WOOO! The best anniversary present…today (8/15/14) you put me over my goal of 500 vaccines donated for #Blogust! THANK YOU!!

  52. Anjali says

    It was nice to read your experience Asha. Since childhood, I Have always been hearing, ” Kids in India or over pampered. Abroad, kids leave home at a very early age”. But today for the first time, I have read what a Non Indian mother feels for the loss of her kids when they are out for a few days. Sam and Mira are darling kids.

    Great work Asha,
    Anything for vaccination……

  53. says

    Oh Asha, It was through you that I came to understand that “the days are long but the years are short.” School has started and I’m missing them dearly. I’m already scared to let them leave home- and I have many more years.

    on a more cheerful note: go vaccines!

  54. says

    I feel you! I remember that first camp experience. Their excitement, my sadness intermingled with the feelings of enjoying my freedom, too. It’s all so complicated. And we get a better idea of what our own parents enduring raising us.

    As an empty-nester, and a grandma, I’m now the one who can’t help myself but say to new moms in the grocery store, “Enjoy them while they are young.” I realize how it sounds when you’re the new mom, but from this end of the spectrum you know it is true. You must enjoy them while you can because the time is very fleeting.

    Thanks for participating in this important campaign, and for giving me a chance to contribute a vaccine (and you’re right, it shouldn’t be a luxury) to a child in need.

  55. says

    Asha,

    I look at my kids now, nine, five, and three and wonder where has the time gone? It’s been a whirlwind and few parts of it have been easy. A tornado in the first three months of having our first baby. A hospitalization for rapid dehydration at around a year. And then cranial operations and feeding clinics. There has been so much stuffed into so little time.

    And its not even the good stuff.

    The hugs and laughs and countless games around the table. The “interviews” we conduct to play with and understand the amazing ways their growing and adapting minds work. Walks on beaches and trips to every playground that we can find. And our Saturday meals, just the kids and I, where we just enjoy (and are sometimes annoyed by) each other’s company.

    We don’t have pictures for most of it. I too forget, in the moment, to capture anything. I comfort myself with the idea that living in the moment is more important; experience life instead of recording it. I worry though. Will I remember it when they have grown up on moved on in their lives?

    We just got back from Gen Con and one night we just went out with our nine year old, Ranger, while his sisters stayed behind at the hotel to hang out with our friend and do crafts. It was a defining moment to see him play a game with us and three adult strangers. He held his own and charmed these adults with his manners and ability to keep up with the game. Seeing him through their eyes reinforced how special he is to us and we’re lucky that he is still here.

    When he was just a baby (before there was a vaccine against it), a bout with the rotavirus nearly killed him due to rapid dehydration. It took a week in the hospital to recover. Our later children had the benefit of the rotavirus vaccine to protect them against an illness that, before the initiation of the vaccine, struck 2.7 million children in the US, hospitalized 60,000 and killed around 37 each year. Worldwide, in developing countries, the rotavirus claims the lives of nearly half a million children.[wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotavirus

    Thank you for supporting vaccinations with your Blogust post. More children deserve a chance at life through the miracle of vaccinations. Good luck.

  56. says

    I had a lot of moments this summer where I realized how limited our time with our daughter is even though she’s just going into 5th grade. While I bristle at people telling me how fast time with our kids goes, I’ve come to realize it’s so true. Thank you for such a great post in honor of Blogust!

  57. says

    Vaccines are a fantastic medical breakthrough and have saved so many people from illness & disease. I’ll do anything I can to help vaccinate people.

  58. Seana says

    That was such an interesting story about how biology factors into all this parting and leavetaking for people. Not just the jolt of anxiety but the lingering sadness. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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