For #Blogust ’14: What I Learned By Sending My Kids to Summer Camp

This post is my contribution to Blogust ’14—Shot@Life’s month-long campaign to provide vaccinations for kids in need around the world. I’m writing on the theme of "Happy and Healthy Firsts."

You can help Parent Hacks unlock 500 vaccine donations by leaving a comment or clicking “Tweet” or “Like” below. (Details at the end of the post.) Thank you for supporting this important effort! — Asha

Both my kids went to overnight camp for the first time this summer. My 11 year-old daughter went for a week, and my 14 year-old son — on the brink of high school and tugging at the reigns — went for a month. A MONTH.

When I made the plans for their camps earlier this year I thought nothing of sending them off. I’m thrilled by every step they take toward independence. What could be wrong with an extended period of time spent in the fresh air, surrounded by new friends, plenty of exercise, and a lack of electronics? Plus alone time for my husband and me?

That, and the big, fat scholarship my son received made summer camp a no-brainer. 

As I drove away from the camp drop-off, I had no idea I was about to experience my own surprising “first” — my first inkling of what life will be like after my kids grow up and move out.

I’m not a hoverer, nor am I much of a worrier. I’m also an optimist who believes the world is generally good. As long as I trust my kids are safe I’m fine if they’re not always smiling or comfortable. So I wasn’t overly concerned with whether or not my kids would love every moment camp; no matter what, they would try something new and learn about themselves in the process. 

But about 48 hours into my son’s four-week absence, I was hit with panic. It was the visceral, lizard-brain level realization that I couldn’t reach my kid.

The camp has an emergency-only phone call policy and doesn’t circulate kid-specific pictures or updates. There would be no funny texting, no peeking at his Instagram feed, no email. Nothing except for a postcard or two if he thought to send them.

Now I don’t keep tabs on my son. Our day-to-day texting is pretty one-way: him to me. I didn’t even want to contact him; my rational self knew it wasn’t necessary and that it could interfere with his transition to camp life. But my instinctual self was a flailing mess.

It’s not as if I was worried about his safety or his emotional state…it was something much deeper. The closest I can come to describing the feeling was loss. It was as if my kid was in a place I couldn’t reach, and it felt Wrong.

After a day or two the panic faded to low-level sadness, even though I could honestly say I was thrilled my son was at camp. I slowly grew accustomed to his empty seat at the dinner table and life mostly filled in the blanks. But my initial reaction still shocked me. I never would have guessed I’d feel such a jolt of separation.

He’s home now — stronger, more mature, bursting with stories and inside jokes and new friendships. Sending him to camp was the best thing we could have done.

But I’ve learned it’s time to stop underestimating “empty nest syndrome.”

My tall, tan son (in the green shirt) upon his return from summer camp.

Man, do I hate it when people say to me, “Enjoy their childhood. It passes so quickly.” Some of those early years were anything but quick and I would be lying if I said I wish I could relive them. 

But I also suffer with the constant low-level guilt of the non-recorder. I prioritize experiencing the present over capturing its image. That sounds zen, but really it just means I forget to take pictures and write down milestones. Now the memories are fading and I’m scrambling to recall them.

My kids are about to start middle- and high school. I can’t properly express how excited I am by that. But their time away and out of touch at camp made me aware with absolute clarity that our time tumbling around the house together is limited.

My daughter, fresh off the camp bus, ready for the next adventure.

I’m grateful to be able to send my kids to summer camp. Valuable as the experience has been for all of us, I know it’s also a luxury.

Another luxury of my circumstance: the easy assumption that my kids will grow up healthy.

Part of registering my kids for camp included digging through my overstuffed files for their vaccination records. There, in smudged ink, were the dates of their childhood vaccines. Each one was an easy choice to protect my kids’ futures for years to come.

Childhood vaccines shouldn’t be a luxury. Every child, no matter where he lives or what her circumstance, deserves a chance at a healthy future.

This month, we can help give 60,000 children around the world that shot at life.

* * * * *

During August 2014, every time you comment on or share this (or ANY) Blogust post, Shot@Life partner Walgreens will donate a life-saving vaccine to a child in need (up to 60,000).

My goal is for Parent Hacks to kick in 500 or more of those vaccines. That means a combined total of 500 comments and/or shares via the "Tweet" and "Like" buttons below.

Will you please take a moment to help me hit that goal?

GO! Leave a comment, and click "Tweet" and/or "Like" below.

It’s an ambitious number — 500 is more comments and/or shares than any Parent Hacks post has ever received — but I’m aiming high because I know we can do it.

Thank you for reading, and for helping change — save — kids’ lives.

Want to do more? Comment on or share every Blogust post this month!