Letting Go Is Easier When Reflecting on Own Childhood

Summer camp. One week. Off on an adventure alone. No friends. My son was ready. The question, Was I ready? I never went to a true summer camp. Besides an emotional college good-bye, my first real adventure came when I was 21. And I don’t think my mom was ready either.

Three weeks in Europe. A friend and I were leaving after college graduation to tour major European cities. My parents and I waited at the Norfolk, Virginia, airport for my friend and her parents to arrive. She was late—really late. I called her house from a pay phone. They should be at the airport, her sister said. I quietly waited, thinking. When my plane started boarding, I stood up and told my parents good-bye.

“What? You’re going?” my mom said. I sure as hell was. I didn’t work as a cashier for five months selling cigarettes to an old man with pink fingernails and a dress for nothing. I didn’t max out my credit card and beg and borrow the rest of the money for my trip for nothing. I was going to Europe!

We hadn’t talked about or looked into another flight. Now there was no time. I was there. I was getting on that plane. I said I’d call when I arrived. I didn’t have time to think about what I’d do once I landed. I had only ever flown once before. I felt nauseous and tried desperately to sleep folded over onto the lap tray. When we landed in London, I had no idea where to go. Signs everywhere warned not to pick up unattended bags. What? Why? A crowd of people held signs with names on them. One of them was my driver. I made it to the hotel exhausted but couldn’t check into the room for two hours. I called home and I learned my friend got stuck in traffic and had caught the next flight. Relief.

We spent the next three weeks navigating centuries-old castles, picturesque gardens, bizarre hotel showers, and each other’s moods. Thankfully, she still talks to me. We found our way into an Austrian pharmacy to replenish my motion sickness medicine, using only my idiotic gesturing and Southern English to communicate. We ordered from menus with decent success, though for the life of me I could not remember to request still water and always ended up with fizz.

Though I yearned for home-cooked food and sheets not made from terry cloth, I was having the time of my life. My mom called one of the hotels looking for me, worried. On my end, there wasn’t time for phone calls.

I think as mothers, we dissect our kids’ situations. There is no big picture but little pieces. We find comfort in odd details to help us cope with those parts that really bother us. I knew my son going to camp would be hard, but he’s been away before. Baby steps. My mom found comfort in the fact that I would be with a friend, that she knew where she could reach me. I put a kink in part of that.

I filled out loads of paperwork for my son. He’ll have fun, I thought. I’ll worry. But at the end of the forms and phone numbers and descriptions of my son’s personality, a reminder: no phone calls. Panic. What if he needs me? More likely, what if I need him?

Like my mom then (and sometimes now), I just wanted to be able to hear it, one sentence even: “I’m OK.” But I take comfort in the fact that his camp is less than an hour away. In our same town. And he’ll probably have fun, even if I won’t sleep for a week.

As a mom, my experiences with struggle and independence and finding my own way are what get me through letting my kids go—even if it’s just to the other side of town.

summer camp

Ready for a week of fun…I hope!

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “Letting Go Is Easier When Reflecting on Own Childhood

  1. It’s always difficult to let our babies go off, no matter what the venue, but it gets easier over time. My youngest was just at a magic camp for a week. Thanks to cell phones, I got a couple quick text messages from him so that was a treat. When I took off to Paris as an Au Pair girl at the age of 18, my mom didn’t have that luxury. Good for you for getting on that plane. It takes courage, but courage is what leads to the greatest experiences. 🙂

    • Carrie said everything I would have said. So I’ll just say “ditto.”

    • Venturing out on my own was the best thing I ever did. I tell my kids now that I want them to go away–to school, on some big trip, somewhere. At some point they must go out and do something big on their own. This trip was definitely an adventure. I’m not sure I would even do it now. Now I would definitely be cautious and wait for my friend. 😉

    • True, true, it is always difficult to let children go but we must. Trust me it does not get easier but we get used to the idea. I have 3 kids who aren’t kids anymore. Still the anxiety does not come down. As you rightly titled it, letting go is easier when reflecting on our own childhood. Very nicely written.

  2. What a lovely post! My boys are young, under 7, and I wonder sometimes, what will I do when they’re bigger, will I be able to let them go to camp, even though I will be an emotional wreck? I really enjoyed this. I hope the week goes smoothly for you both.

    • The fact that he wanted to go helped. If I had had the desire to go to camp at his age, I think it would have made a huge difference in my confidence. I learned a lot about myself when I finally did do things on my own. Knowing that is what gets me through things like this!

      And he had a great week–wanted to stay another week when we picked him up! Relief.

  3. Kids do so much more these days than we did. My summers were far from adventurous though I did go to sleep away camp twice.
    Anyway, like you I did alot of traveling after college. It was an amazing experience that impacted my greatly.

  4. Summer camp was very hard on us when our girl started two years ago. She had a ball, but we missed her terribly. It is hugely important to give kids independence. Its a great preparation for all of us as the long on-ramp begins for the days when they go off to college as well. We learned to take trips without her to distract us. Every year she returns from camp, she comes back just a bit more confident which is beautiful to see and makes it all worth while.

    Loved your post. It captures well the tension between youth yearning for independence and parental interests in togetherness. Hope your experience with camp is as good as ours has been.

  5. I remember going to Vietnam the summer after my junior year of college. I felt so independent and grown up. Calling home was expensive and unnecessary in my opinion, and I was baffled as to why mom was so upset when I returned 8 weeks later. Now that I’m older, I usually call her every day. I guess independence gets tempered with wisdom along the way.

  6. I loved the heart felt sentiments. I can so relate! As children go through phases ;!parents should use these same phases for growth in themselves.

  7. Lisa

    I don’t remember the pharmacy adventure. I do remember the guys hitting on us in Venice in Italian. We should probably sit down sometime and compare notes. As for overnight camp, so not ready for that.

    • I remember every bathroom was an adventure! Overnight camp: success. It was very good that we started small. He went on an overnight field trip with school in fourth grade for two nights without me. It was awful. He was with parents I knew, but I still didn’t sleep at all. I worried the whole time. I don’t even think he said hello to me when I picked him up. He had a blast. This was different, not knowing anyone and a much longer time. But that first experience helped.

  8. I remember when my oldest went with his class to Germany for a month. I was a total basket case….worked myself into a frenzy and just could not deal with it. Even bothered airport security so much that they let me through to the airside so I could be there till he took off and again when he landed, just so I wouldn’t have to wait that extra 3 minutes to see him after so long. But you know, after that first experience with the sleepless nights and panics in the middle of the day realizing that I couldn’t even pick up a phone to hear him, I never had that again with him. He went, he enjoyed, and he came back and all without me! I guess I did some growing too on that trip!

    • It definitely gets easier. Leaving him for camp was a little tough, but I made it through the week. Even better, so did he! When we picked him up, he wanted to stay another week!

  9. As a first time mom of a 5-month-old, it’s almost unimaginable to think about a week away from him. This was a great post. I think none of us are ever ready and it’s nice and comforting to know other moms feel the same

    • I think you will find that as a mother, you are never alone in your worry, fears, and joys as a mom. Welcome to motherhood! Hard to believe my son is 11 now but I can remember 5 months old like it was yesterday!

  10. I can connect with this! Thanks for sharing.

  11. I remember going to Europe in the good old days when there weren’t mobile phones, email,skype,Facebook and feeding coins into starving phone boxes only to be able to say hi to a friend or calling my parents reverse. It’s so different when people travel these days.
    A few years back, I sent my kids to camp for a week. It was a respite thing and it turned out that I needed to have quite a few medical tests that week ands so it really was a blessing in disguise. They could have fun without needing to be in the know. When I dropped them off, there was an army of carers who loved children and wanted to make a difference. That helped even though I still felt guilty, worried. When I picked them up, my daughter looked quite withdrawn and was holding a teddy. She had had a wonderful week and wanted to go back but it was quite a lot for her. I think she was 5 and our son was 7. They still talk about what a great camp it was though. xx Rowena

  12. Love your perspective and sense of humor!! 🙂

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