The emails were all the same: “I just can’t stop crying…my daughter hasn’t even been gone for 24 hours, and I miss her already.” wrote the mother whose ten year old was off to sleep away camp for the first time. “The house is so quiet. At first I loved it, but now I am so ready for him to be home,” confessed the mother of a nine year old boy off to two weeks at camp in the mountains. You wonder if your child is really ready for sleep away camp, when the question really should be, are you ready for your child to go to sleep away camp.
Whether it’s leaving your infant with a baby sitter, watching your four year old go off on a playdate (without you), helping your six year old to pack for a sleepover…whether it’s going off to nursery school, starting kindergarten, or going off to college, over and over again, life is full of separations.
At first the focus is on the child. Will he be okay? Will he be too homesick to have fun at camp? Will the teacher kiss his boo boo at preschool? With whom will he have lunch on the school playground? Will he even think to wash his sheets in the dorm? Then the dust settles, all is well, and a new reality emerges. My child is fine; he can take care of himself. I’m a mess. Look who is having trouble with separation!
Going to sleep away camp or to a friend’s house for the night are such valuable separations. Not only does your child learn how to take care of his own physical and emotional needs, becoming self reliant and independent, but you get to practice letting go. All of the little separations in your child’s life pave the way for the big separation. There will come a time when your little guy, now big, kisses you goodbye, and that kiss has to last all the way until his next visit home.
Jessie came home last month to pack up her wedding gifts and drive them to her new home in San Francisco. “Mom, where is my birth certificate? I need it for work.” she asked as she and Michael were about to leave. Of course I had it. It was in the important papers file, its permanent, safe home. “Are you sure you should take it, Jess? It’s the only copy. Shouldn’t we keep it?” Can you hear the eye roll I got?
Jessie hasn’t really lived at home, not full time, since she went off to college fourteen years ago. She has come and gone, vacationed on Greentree Road, but this is still the place called “home.” But it wasn’t until I handed Jessie her very own birth certificate, that it really hit me. We’ve separated.
On the next trip, she promised she would unload the attic and take the rest of her memorabilia to her home. I waited to cry until the UHaul was at the end of the block.