By the time this column hits print, my 9-year-old girl will be a few days into her first time at overnight camp. Mama will be a few days into low-level, sleep-free anxiety mode.
In truth, I’m both thrilled and anxious. As is she. I’m thrilled because I think she’s the kind of kid who will adore camp. I never went to summer camp but wanted to, so I’m looking forward to living the experience through her.
She’s thrilled because she likes her independence, and the day-long scheduled activities appeal to her organized, energetic soul. She’s also looking forward to a week of being dirty. My girl’s a natural-born slob.
I’m anxious because I’m having to let go, for the first time, of what little control I have left over my kid. Sure, we’ve been apart before, for a few days here and there, but she typically stays with her grandparents. Basically, she’s always had an adult family member kiss her good night and remind her to brush her teeth.
She’s anxious because she’s going to miss our Dorkie Poo mutt. More than she’ll miss her brother or her parents, she claims.
At times like this, my worst-case scenario mode kicks in. I can imagine 8,000 ways that she could get hurt or injured or just so dirt-encrusted that she blends right into the lake water. While I try to accept that there’s nothing I can do about natural disasters, evil-stinging insects, girl-hungry bears or murky ponds, I did attempt, in the days before she left, to instill in my girl a small bit of concern for hygiene.
Don’t forget to brush your teeth—even your molars. Wash your hands a lot at camp. Clean your retainer. Separate your dirty clothes from your clean clothes. Don’t leave your wet bathing suit in your trunk overnight.
I didn’t even mention her hair, because I know she won’t brush it. She has fine hair that tangles into birds’ nests every night, and she hates brushing it or letting anyone with a brush near her. She’ll probably come home with dreadlocks, which I’ll have to cut out quickly before her grandparents find out she’s emulating the Rasta lifestyle and deny future camp support.
I also talked to her about keeping up with her stuff, which given the state of our home, and the piles of clothing, books and papers drifting around, is highly hypocritical of me.
We’ve written her name on everything with a Sharpie, but I still wonder if I should’ve doubled the camp’s packing list. At least it will be interesting to see what she returns home with, and how much of it actually belongs to her.
I also remind myself frequently that there’s lots of adult supervision at camp, and that someone will, at some point during the week, pick the twigs and leaves from my girl’s hair and remind her to pick up her wet bathing suit off the floor. And even if they don’t, she’ll be OK.
And really, these concrete, but easily obsessed-over, concerns are secondary to how she fares emotionally.
Will she make friends? Will she feel left out? Will she be homesick? Will someone hug her every day?
These are the questions that truly keep me awake at night.
I know, intellectually, that, like snakes and lightning strikes, I can’t control these things. I know camp will be a great chance for her to learn to solve problems without parental assistance—a time for her to grow more self-sufficient.
But damn, it’s scary out there. I know kids, and girls in particular, can be mean. I know that my girl’s tomboy tendencies can make her feel separate from the girly-girl world. I need to remind myself that she’s witty, a fast learner, and gets along well with others.
Cheesy as it sounds, that stupid quote about roots and wings keeps running through my mind. You know the one: “There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: One is roots, the other is wings.” I’m embarrassed to admit that such a cliché offers me comfort, but I hope we’ve given her roots, and now, by sending her to overnight camp, we’re offering her a chance to test her nascent wings.
Yes, I know, deep down, that she’ll be OK and have an amazing time, but I’ll still spend the entire week thinking and worrying about her. I’ll hope that she’s not thinking about me at all.
Well, maybe just a little bit. Now that I have to compete with a wiener-shaped fur ball.