If you had asked me last month to describe my parenting style, I would have told you that I hover high, high above the helicopter parents, watching my children from a healthy distance. I believe in letting them fend largely for themselves, giving them room to grow, instilling independence.
Then my 11-year-old son went to sleepaway camp.
By day two I was ready to hijack a damn helicopter and swoop in to bust him out of that place. What if he wasn’t happy? Would he remember to brush his teeth and change the rubber bands on his braces? Maybe I should just call and ask someone to remind him to reapply sunscreen often? What if I just wanted to hug him?
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The days ticked by ever so slowly as I missed my boy. Oh there were photos the camp posted every day — photos that were surely designed to comfort parents. Instead they made me a raving lunatic. All day and night, I’d wait, refreshing the page to see if new pictures had been uploaded.
Then the glorious moment would come when I saw that pictures had been posted — usually around 11 p.m. when I was fighting to stay awake for a glimpse — and I began to scroll through furiously at first looking for his face or floppy hair, then ever so slowly with an eagle eye looking for any small sighting of his tennis shoes or the back of his head so I could try to discern how he was doing.
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Unlike the other campers/posers who appeared smiling in multiple pictures per day, my son apparently ran and hid from the camera most of the time. My husband joked that we could fly a drone over camp and get our own pictures; I didn’t think it was the worst idea I’d ever heard. When I finally would see his sweet face, I spent far too much time studying it, trying to glean his level of happiness and if he was eating enough vegetables. Then I went I went back to refreshing my screen.
To help pass the days that dragged by while I waited until I could go pick him up, I sent him what are known as bunk notes via a sort of one-way email system. You send your camper a note (or 50), which is then printed out and given him at mealtime. They can then send you… nothing.
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That’s the thing about camp I wasn’t prepared for — it wasn’t just him being away from me necessarily, it was the total and complete lack of communication, the lack of being able to gauge his mood and ask questions. It’s a lot easier being a hands-off mom when I can get my hands on him if I want. If he went to Europe for two weeks it would be different because we could call, Skype, text and email, but not so at camp. Besides snail mail (which I didn’t receive — harrumph), they’re cut off from you completely. And that’s hard on a mama no matter what your parenting type.
When pickup day finally arrived, I was thrilled to see him and ready with a million questions and hugs. He loved archery and water skiing; his teeth appeared to have been brushed at least semi-regularly and he was happy. So happy, in fact, he asked if could go for longer next year. I told him maybe… if they install a helipad.
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