Sleep Away Camp Jitters – For Everyone

My ten year-old daughter is at sleep away camp for two weeks for the first time this summer, and while in the weeks leading up to her departure I was focused solely on her, now that she is gone I think the rest of the family may be experiencing more of an adjustment than she is.

Whenever anyone asked her how she felt about going away to camp, she would aways reply “excited and scared,” which was a pretty accurate description of how I felt too. Excited for her that she was embarking on this new adventure where she will hopefully meet new friends, have new experiences, and have some time that is all about her and not her and her two siblings. I never went to sleep away camp but wish I had had the opportunity.

On the other hand, I was a little scared too. I worried about how my daughter will fare on her own for two weeks. This is a girl who has to be reminded to brush her teeth. Will the counselors make sure she has on sunscreen? Bug spray? Will she lose her clothes? What if she gets sick? And let’s not even think about how homesick she may be, in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, away from home for the first time. Of course, I relayed none of this anxiety to my daughter, who remained composed about the whole situation.

When the week of her departure arrived and camp became more of a reality, she remained in the same nervous but excited state, and I was thrilled to watch my normally pretty disorganized daughter check off necessary items on the camp-provided check list as she labeled all of her belongings. I thought we were out of the woods and would have smooth sailing, free of meltdowns, but was wrong. Of course.

The night before the morning we were to leave arrived and my daughter’s bags were packed, paddle and life jacket labeled, cooler ready for our 5:30 am departure for a 2 hour drive to the camp bus, and it came time to say good night. Her nerves got the best of her as she sobbed uncontrollably for a half hour or more, saying she didn’t want to go, she would miss me, don’t make her go, etc. Once she started melting down, my younger daughter, who is 8 and with whom she shares a room, started her own breakdown saying she would miss her sister, why did she have to go, please let her stay. Then my son, who is six, started in and would not get off my ten year old’s bed until my husband had to pull him off by his ankles. It was quite a scene. I managed to calm my daughter down; we talked for a long time about how new experiences could be a little but scary and that was normal, I explained anticipation to her, and she managed to get to sleep.

The car trip the next morning to the bus was uneventful and I think my daughter felt better after the previous night’s cathartic breakdown. I was feeling good as we pulled into the parking lot two hours early (I didn’t want to be late:-) – rookie move) but finally the bus arrived. I checked her in, stowed her bags, and I hugged her tightly at the bus door with sunglasses covering my tears – she remained dry-eyed and I think just wanted to get the show on the road. She got on the bus and I thought we were good to go as I waited for the bus to pull away, yet it sat, for a half hour past departure time, waiting for a late camper. You have got to be kidding me. Girls were pounding on the windows sobbing for their parents. Mothers, in spite of strict instructions for parents to stay off the bus once the girls boarded, were getting on the bus and taking pictures. If my daughter could make it through this, she can make it through anything. And she did. I have to say I was really proud of her. The bus finally pulled away.

We are on day five without her and we are all feeling her absence. Her room is strangely empty. There is no laundry to do, no shoes to pick up. Her brother and sister are fighting like cats and dogs, which makes it clear to me that I don’t give my ten year old enough credit for keeping the peace. I have told my eight year old daughter not only is she a little sister, but a big sister too and needs to act like one sometimes. There is no contact permitted beyond letters, and care packages must be food- and candy -free (what to send??). My greatest hope for my daughter is that she has the time of her life, makes new friends, and returns each year. And if she decides she never wants to go back? I will still be proud of her.

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Rachael Ray