Be Careful What You Wish For: Sleepaway Camp Revelations

We all survived Harry Potter Camp. It was the girls’ first attempt at a sleepaway camp and I would not be exaggerating if I said it caused us all some anxiety. Back in March, when I signed Eva and Lola up for this week-long YMCA-sponsored camp, it was easy to be excited. The girls were thrilled at the prospect of getting to immerse themselves in all things Harry Potter for a week – trying their hand at quidditch, potion-making, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and escaping from Azkaban. Bubba and I could hardly contain our glee at the idea of getting an entire week at home without having to arrange for a babysitter if we wanted to go to the movies or dinner. I vowed not to cook or do dishes for the entire week and told Bubba if he scheduled a business trip I would wring his neck like a Thanksgiving turkey.

And then the week approached. We checked items off of the packing list and pretended not to be nervous around each other. Lola broke first.
“I’m gonna miss you guys a lot,” she turned her eyes down to the tablecloth, avoiding eye contact. I felt a little tear in my resolve.
“I’m going to miss you, too. But I think you’re going to be so busy every day that you won’t even remember to miss me very much.”
Two days before we dropped the girls off, Bubba told me he had to go to California for two days the next week. Before I could wrap my fingers around his thick, stocky neck he reared back, “Come with me! The girls won’t know. I’ll get a nicer hotel than I normally stay in. You can bring your laptop and hang out by the pool and we can go out at night.” Again, it sounded great.
I imagined myself as one of those mothers who could say I’d been away with my husband on a fabulous trip without the kids. I’ve always aspired to join that group, but have balked at leaving the girls behind. The truth is, I like spending time with them and traveling is a great way to have new and different adventures with them. But this, well. They were leaving us, right?
The camp counselors had the drop-off down to a science. Get everyone out of the car at the lagoon at the bottom of the hill, give hugs good-bye and load the kids into waiting paddle-boats for a trip across the lagoon. The kids were excited about a boat ride, unsure whether this was the “real” good-bye, and the parents had to climb back into the cars and drive the sleeping bags and suitcases up the hill to the cabins. Busy the parents checking their kids in, have them drop the gear in the cabin to which their child was assigned, and send them on their way.
WHAT? Oh. I guess we said good-bye. I will admit feigning a full bladder so I could use the restroom next to the campfire before driving away. This way, I got to catch a quick glimpse of Eve and Lola fully immersed in campfire chants with Ginny, Hermione, Dumbledore and Mrs. Weasley.
I didn’t cry. Bubba and I didn’t look at each other and made nervous, chattering conversation for the hour and a half back home. We checked the movie listings, went to “Planet of the Apes,” and got to have sushi without ordering a veggie roll. By the time we got home, we could pretend that the girls were just on sleepovers at friends’ houses. On a Sunday night.
Monday, Bubba got to go to work. I pretended it was a school day, blissfully free of lunch-packing and prodding Eve to get out of her snug bed. I went to yoga with a friend, had coffee with another friend and drove downtown to have dinner with Bubba at a fancy restaurant.
Tuesday morning I cried. Tuesday morning I panicked. What if Lola, true to her balls-out nature, flung herself out of a tree and broke another bone? What if Eve got some food that wasn’t gluten-free and her stomach was in agony? And I blithely went to California, a two hour plane ride and a two hour drive away? Bubba managed to talk me off the edge and call his sister to ensure that she could dash to camp and get the girls if something horrible happened.
And, yet again, I was thankful for the dichotomy in our parenting relationship. As the parent who stays home with the girls, I have built my life around them. Any activities I do are scheduled during the hours when I know they don’t need me. And if they do need me during those hours, the activities don’t rest on my participation. I can leave to go get a vomiting child. I can skip a day of volunteering if Lola has a teacher inservice. I can reschedule my appointment if Eve is running a cross-country race one day.
Bubba has the option of separating himself a bit more. He knows he isn’t what I call the “primary parent.” He knows that he won’t be called upon unless it is an extreme emergency. He goes to work knowing that very few things have the potential to derail his day. And while this has prompted some resentment on my part over the years, it also affords him a different perspective. He is able to see things in a more global way and come to decisions about how to deal with tricky situations more quickly than I. I used to think that this was because I am more emotionally-driven than he, but I’m not so sure anymore.
My relationship with the kids is more need-based than his. From the beginning, they learned that I was the repository of all food, comfort, physical relief, and crisis management. For me, that set up a constant state of readiness. Even when the girls went off to school, I knew that I had to have my cell phone at the ready and not be too far away in case someone needed something. While that often made me frustrated at the restrictions it placed on me, I realize that I came to rely on it. When you learn that coloring inside the lines is important, you begin to respect the lines. Count on them.
With the girls away for a week, in a place with adults I trust to take care of them, and the likelihood that they would need me for something very slim, my lines are gone. I’m free. Like that tame bird whose cage door stands wide open, I’m a little afraid to venture outside of what I know.
In the end, the girls came home from camp filthy and exhausted and full of tales from Hogwarts. Who knew wizards could have belly-flop competitions? Who knew you could go to the Yule Ball in August? They made their own wands, were sorted into houses (Eve in Ravenclaw and Lola and Hufflepuff), and were sad to leave. They slept for two days when they got home, taking breaks only to spill tales of adventures at camp like machine gun fire.
And me? I learned that there is life beyond parenting. And it’s pretty good. Thank goodness I have several more years to figure it out.
9 replies
  1. aig63
    aig63 says:

    Ah, well done. Not just your superb writing but your camp week survival! As a mother of three campers (eldest just finished his 7th year at camp and youngest just did her first month-long stay); all you wrote resonated with me. I often refer to July as ENST (Empty Nest Syndrome Training) but the benefits to my kids are far greater.

  2. Dee Ready
    Dee Ready says:

    Your story today, Kario, pulled me in and had me right there with you on this journey to the Empty Nest in a few years.

    aig63's comment about this being an ENST for you with great benefits also for your two girls makes a lot of sense. I hope that each year their journey to camp becomes a little easier for you.

    I'd love to hear more about the Harry Potter camp. I think I might be his most avid adult fan. His print books, books on tape, DVDs, and movies have given me many hours of enjoyment.

    I sort of envy your girls the opportunity they had to immerse themselves in that culture–even to riding a boat across the lake to get to Hogwarts!

  3. Wanda
    Wanda says:

    Oh, what fun! For everyone. I am glad you got to color outside the lines and use some crayons you'd never used before. You'll be making good friends of these over the next several years.

    Harry Potter camp sounds like a blast!

  4. Elizabeth Young
    Elizabeth Young says:

    Great and rare post! I was beginning to feel like the only mother who ever stayed home to raise her children unless they were home schooling and lived on a farm. I was home for seventeen years raising my children and we did do without a lot but I wouldn't change it for anything and heartily believe my children got the better end of the bargain.

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Great writing, Kario. I can truly appreciate the bittersweet dilemma of wanting to be a mother to your kids all the time and also enjoying (and fearing) that alone time. My daughter is still young (3 1/2). But I already feel the same way. I've actually passed up travel opportunities because I didn't want to leave her. Part of me thinks I'm crazy, yet another is perfectly content with that decision. Needless to say, I'm already dreading her departure to college.

  6. Carrie Wilson Link
    Carrie Wilson Link says:

    I'll just say, "YES!" And this, it's too much responsibility to put on someone, for them to be our life. Good for you for starting the process of letting them have their own, and you, yours!

  7. Jennifer Wolfe
    Jennifer Wolfe says:

    Stopping by via my friend Dee's recommendation…enjoyed your blog! My 15 year old daughter has gone away for weeks alone several times-I think I worry more than some parents, but I just have to breathe and tell myself she's been raised to take care of herself!
    Look forward to reading more of your posts!


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