Summer Camp is a Big Step for Parents, Too

On Sunday we delivered our nine-year-old daughter to the bus that will take her to sleep-away camp for the first time.  It was far from a tearful goodbye – she was first in line to get on and gave me a warm but brief hug before boarding. I smiled bravely and waved at the tinted glass windows, not knowing if she was even looking, and she was gone.

My husband, not fooled by my brisk exterior, squeezed my hand as we returned to the car with our younger two children. He had seen tears running down my cheeks as we drove across the Bay Bridge on our way to the bus stop, and of course he was feeling emotional, too. I had expected to be weepy when we parted, but I was utterly stunned by the sheer emotional heft of the experience. This long-limbed, wild-haired girl who was not so long ago a baby in my arms was on the threshold of her first major experience completely independent of me in a place and with people I didn’t know. Not only did she not need me for this – it was essential that she do it on her own. I couldn’t do it for her or protect her from getting hurt. And despite my confidence in her, that was scary.

Years ago, my dad told me that having a child meant “giving a hostage to fortune,” and I didn’t fully get it at the time, but now I know he was right. Every time we send our children out into the world, we are putting them – and by extension ourselves, at risk. The fierce love we feel for them leaves our hearts utterly exposed. Luckily we don’t really know how vulnerable becoming parents will make us when we decide to have children. As they take their first baby steps, we begin our own journey of letting go. We learn to live with our vulnerability and to keep our fears in check. We fervently hope that the values and lessons that we have been trying to teach will help to guide them. Over time we come to trust them and to trust that they will be okay, even when they fall or fail, as they inevitably will. The rest is up to them.

Before long, she’ll be home, no doubt changed by her experience. I can’t wait to see her and hear all about it. And I’m really glad that college is still years away. We both need time to get ready.