On Sunday, my soon to be 8-year-old son spent $15 at his all-boys camp. He bought something (a T-shirt? A sweatshirt?) in X-large and something (sunglasses?) in black. Meanwhile, my 9-year-old daughter, across the pond at the all-girls camp, spent $13 on coasters (?!) and a keychain. This was just on Sunday. In the past five days since I dropped them off at their idyllic brother and sister camps in the Berkshire mountains, they have bought Popsicles, 35-cent candy per day and miscellaneous items, identified only by color and/or size. It has been my only communication with them in a week.
If I seem like a stalker, it’s because I am.
Each purchase holds the secret to their days. Did my daughter buy tissues because she’s sick? Or does she have allergies? Or worse — is she crying? Is she homesick and missing us and we have no idea because of the camp’s fairly strict rules about communication? It’s enough to drive any parent nuts wondering. I spent a good 20 minutes debating with friends about whether sad people eat Popsicles (verdict: They don’t), therefore, assuring myself that my daily Popsicle-buying children are happy.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in sleepaway camp. My children are so lucky to have this opportunity to be away from all technology, make friends for life and develop themselves creatively and physically in nature among their same-sex peers. We’re paying quite a bit for them to have this experience and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t believe it is a privilege and a vital part of development.
But that doesn’t make it easy.
Last weekend, during camp drop-off, my heart was pounding when I left my 9-year-old in her cabin. I had helped make her bed and unpack her things, but as we pulled away, she looked so lost and small, it was all I could not to run back and grab her, never letting her out of my sight. Dropping my son was easier since he was more excited and less sad, but it wasn’t completely easy. Last summer was our first sleepaway summer with our oldest, and I’d forgotten how hard it is to pull away and leave them behind. It’s even harder to walk into the quiet, empty house without them.
The first week is an information dead zone. Very few photos and videos come out of the camp and the ones that do, I rewind over and over, searching the crowds, looking for my kids. Are they smiling? Are they with other kids? Do they seem like they are singing along or sitting on the sidelines?
Camp parents live by the motto “no news is good news” and I try to keep that in mind. Not hearing from them almost certainly means they are having too much fun to write or call and no counselor or nurse felt they were in enough trouble to warrant a message. The likelihood is that they are settling in, loving their activities and enjoying this amazing opportunity to be off the grid in our tech-obsessed world.
I know my daughter is horseback riding and my son is fishing, and I know they are making friends and hopefully receiving the letters, packages and printed out emails I am sending them every single day.
I am no helicopter mom. If I were, I couldn’t do camp at all. Even so, I will continue to peruse their canteen account every day for signs of what they need, what they miss and what they are buying. In three weeks, they will be home, back in my arms, but until then, I will wonder about each purchase, analyzing it’s meaning from 200 miles away and hoping that a Popsicle and 35-cent candy means a happy, healthy, thriving child.
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