So much on my mind this week...and it's the first time I've had a chance to sit down and say something. Maybe I should write something political, but my friends the columnists have done such a good job. So I'm not going to hold court here about the loss of the Voting Rights Act, the end of DOMA, the triumph of Wendy Davis, and the senate's bill giving hope at last for fair treatment of the undocumented.
Instead, I'm going to talk about the personal. Because I find myself in a strange predicament this week. I'm without two of my three kids, who are off at sleep-away camp. Like my two-year-old, I keep looking for them everywhere, and they're nowhere to be found. (Except, on occasion, on the camp website, where I may have the luck to find one or both of them deep in a selection of hundreds of photos. One mom noted on Facebook that she can recognize her kid by the corner of a shoe. It's an addiction. As soon as they're spotted, you want more. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.)
This is not the first time that they've both been away, or that I've been away from them. Last summer, Bella went to camp for one session, and Ruby overlapped with her for a week. But this year, Bella's away for 7 weeks, and Ruby for 4. That's a long time.
I was so harried moving, helping the kids finish school, and getting organized and packing for camp, that I didn't have much time to consider what it would be like with the kids gone. It was the day after they left that Josh said to me, "Why'd we have to send them away for so long?" [Some Israeli friends, who can't wrap their brains around the American institution of summer camp, jokingly chided that it's child abuse.]
Why, indeed? For one thing, they wanted to go. When I was a kid, camp was a given, not a choice. But I always said I wouldn't send my kids unless they wanted to go. My girls were SO EXCITED for camp. They woke up at 5 am the day they were leaving, like people do when they have to catch a plane for a long-anticipated trip. Looking at the photos, camp looks like one long vacation for those lucky kids. Like Club Med, without the parents at night.
I went to camp for seven summers as a camper, and three on staff, and there's no question that the experience shaped me. I made some of my deepest friends, and each summer had more memories by far than the school years in between. By the time I was in college I couldn't think of coming home for a summer. How would I cope just hanging out with my parents?
I think that now, more than ever, freedom for children is scarce. What a gift for a child to be sent off on her own for a few weeks, knowing that she's not really on her own at all. She has friends and counselors there to help her, coupled with increased incentive to figure things for herself, without Mom and Dad in the background. It's hard not knowing all the details of my kids' lives, but at the same time, it's a gift for them to learn self-reliance, and to find out all the ways in which they don't need me.
So what is a parent to do, with their kids gone? In all my summers at camp, I never thought for a moment about what it was like for my parents back at home. I guess I assumed it was one glorious kid-free vacation for them. Alas, my (pre-children) daydreams of summering in Tuscany while the kids are at camp was squashed by the reality of paying camp tuition. This really IS our vacation. For them, it's the time of their lives. For us, it's a few weeks to focus on the little one, and to be able to float by with less structure. We will all blink our eyes and find ourselves packing school backpacks, come September.