Sleepaway Camp: Amazing for Kid, Hard on Mom

Sleepaway Camp: Amazing for Kid, Hard on Mom

My eldest son recently returned home from an 11-day sleepaway camp in the North Georgia mountains. He returned a bit taller, his voice was a bit raspier, and a bit more sure of himself. Meanwhile, I was a blubbering mess. 

My nights were sleepless, full of needless worries and anxieties. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with a jolt, and toss and turn, sometimes migrating to his empty bed where I’d toss and turn some more until morning. 

I didn’t realize how tough it would be for me. A quiet house, how I’d miss the fighting between two brothers, and the messes he’d leave scattered all over the house.

As with most of these camps, they did not allow him to call us, and we were not allowed to call him. The only form of communication we received was a scanned letter emailed from camp. It was their way of allowing the camper to fully “be in the moment” without the distraction of calls from family.

The camp’s website featured a photo gallery where parents could find photos of their kids actively enjoying camp life – horseback riding, arts and crafts, music, lake games, and more. 

I found myself hitting *refresh* several times a day, and still – only one photo of my son with his arm around his buddy. 

Sleepaway Camp: Amazing for Kid, Hard on MomHe looked happy. He looked far away. He looked like he didn’t miss us.

During one sleepless night – I begged the camp directors for some assurances. 

How was my kid doing? Did he need anything? Why was I not seeing pictures? When would I get a letter? The whole idea of zero communication was excruciating for me, I explained to them. Could they please send me something to ease my anxious thoughts?

“Your son is having the time of his life,” they assured me. He was adjusting well, making new friends very easily, very engaged, and one of the *least* homesick of the group, they said.

I was new at the overnight camp thing. Most of his Jewish day school friends were repeat campers, having done the sleepaway thing since they were around eight, as had their parents from an early age.  

“Your kid will be mad at you that he’s only experiencing this now, having never been to sleepaway camp,” one friend tried to console me. I wanted her to be both right and wrong at the same time. 

One weekend day several years ago at our community gym pool, we had brought our boys to spend the day, like we do most weekend summer days. I studied the parents of one of my older son’s friends, lounging at the pool with a cocktail in hand. Their 9-year-old son was at sleepaway camp and there they were. Relaxing, with what seemed to me like not a care in the world.  The concept was so foreign to me and disconcerting.  “Your kids are away, and you’re so relaxed?” I marveled with disbelief and horror at their nonchalance.  

Turns out, this was a rite of passage most of these parents had experienced themselves, and one they cherish forever. They knew what camp was – and knew they couldn’t possibly offer their kids these types of experiences at home. These camps have been operating for decades, welcoming generations of families who share memories they carry into adulthood.

Finally, Day 11 arrived, the day we picked up our son from camp. 

We made the drive to the pickup spot at a vast high school, just a mile away from the camp. My husband and I stood under the shade of a tree with other parents awaiting their children.   

The first bus came, and one by one, kids started piling out. 

The kids were of varying ages, anywhere from 9 to 13 years old. 

My eyes welled up as children were reunited with their parents, sharing a long hug. Some had been away for longer than my son. At first glimpse of my kid, I shouted his name, grabbed him, and hugged him, whimpering with relief.  

He kept his cool, seemingly, but had plenty of stories to tell about his adventures on the ride home. At home, he was a bit restless, trying to decompress from an exciting two weeks away.

“Next year I’m going for a whole month,” my son announced. 

Guess my friend was right, and I now have a whole year to prepare emotionally and financially for a month’s sleepaway summer camp.

Do your kids go to sleepaway camp? Share your experience with us in the comments below.

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Dana is a working mom of two active boys, ages 4 and 8. She was born in Tel Aviv and raised in Atlanta. With a background in journalism, she spent 12 years chasing deadlines as a news and documentary producer, writer, international news desk editor, and web editor.  After the birth of her first child, it became obvious she was not going to be the next Katie Couric or Christiane Amanpour. She was still dedicated, but the only thing gained from the grueling weekend and overnight shifts was a case of gastritis. She remembers being "so busy" she could not step away for lunch/dinner/breakfast and would have to shove the food down while hovering over her computer. The disgusting crumbs piling up in the keyboard were hers. As luck would have it, another round of layoffs was near and she seized the opportunity (having survived a few layoffs before). Several months into her severance she was fortunate to find a job in PR and Communications, promoting a subject that felt like a natural fit.   The most important lesson she's learned since becoming a mom is: NEVER say never. "I will NEVER shop at Costco, drive a car with a carpool number, become a 'soccer' mom, live near my parents in a house in the suburbs."  She now does all those things and more she never thought she would with the utmost feeling of gratitude.