Holding tight and letting go: what a child’s first time at sleep-away camp means for a Dad

campfire_kids3There’s been a long interlude between my last blog and this one. I can attempt to blame work travel, of which there has been a fair amount, or more honestly own up to a bout of inertia.

But I have been propelled into action to write by an aching heart caused by the advent of summer.

This is ironic given that the weather is glorious (apart from when it’s too humid to venture outdoors), holidays are on the horizon, and it’s the perfect season for two of my favorite activities: drinking cold beer and standing over a smoky BBQ.

The reason for my longing is the fact that Livvy – our elder daughter – is away for the first time at summer camp. She is currently in North Carolina swimming, playing sports, camping, grilling marshmallows over nighttime bonfires and seemingly having the time of her life. She headed off two weeks ago to a camp we had carefully selected as offering a down to earth fun experience, with a good sprinkling of liberal-minded Jewish values and practices thrown in.

The camp runs for over three weeks during which time, she is not allowed to call us, and we are not allowed to ring her. Phones and emails are off limits for the campers, and our knowledge of what Livvy is up to is limited to seeing daily pictures of her on the camp website.

If the width of her smile on the photos is anything to go by, then she seems to be a picture of happiness and well-being. Given the absence of letters from her (apart from a sole 40 word long note), I can only assume that she is having such a good time that she has temporarily forgotten her parents!

By contrast, I have written to her at least every other day, and we have sent two care packages with all the essentials such as new socks, stick on tattoos and Minion goggles (one of life’s essentials for any fan of ‘Despicable Me’).

When the subject of going to sleep away camp came up last year, Lysette and I reacted with similar shock and horror to the idea that our eldest (yet still young) daughter would head off hundreds of miles from home for almost a month.

In Israel and the UK, the idea of sending off a 9 year old who had only spent a night or two away from home, to the care of (trained) strangers, verged on child cruelty. But in the US – particularly among Jews – going away to sleep-away camp is a rite of passage. Added to which Livvy embraced the idea with little doubt and great enthusiasm, leaving us with the sense that to deny her this important chapter of her childhood would be surrendering to our own inhibitions.

Some of Livvy’s contemporaries have gone off for seven weeks, but the prospect of having her away for such a length of time, is too much for my close-to-home English/Israeli influenced sensibilities. As it is, I have found myself gazing longingly at her picture, and relocating to her bedroom in the middle of the night.

But despite missing her and worrying about what she is up to, I also understand the importance and value of her time at camp. She is establishing her independence, making far-away friends, learning new skills both social and practical – all without us present. She is also having a Jewish experience that is fun, positive and endlessly rich.

Edie – Livvy’s younger sister – has closely studied the pictures emanating from camp and informed us that next year, she too wants to go. I find myself greeting her pronouncement with a mixture of trepidation and pride.  I dislike the idea of not having my daughters close by, but at the same time I am admiring of their willingness to strike out on their own.

It seems only a very short while ago that Livvy and Edie were gurgling infants, who couldn’t do anything for themselves, and would cry the second we were out of sight. But time has flown by at an incredible pace, and seemingly in an instant they have been transformed into capable individuals with a strong sense of themselves and what they want.

I am only just beginning to understand that parenting is not only about guiding your children hand in hand, but also letting them stray from you to make discoveries for themselves. In that respect it’s not just my nine year old daughter who is gaining important insights from her time away at camp.

I can’t wait for Livvy to come home (7 days, 3 hours and counting!). At the same time I want the experience to stretch out for her, knowing that it will likely become engraved in her character forever.

2 thoughts on “Holding tight and letting go: what a child’s first time at sleep-away camp means for a Dad

  1. I can totally relate to your feelings. Your daughter is at the best camp in the world. It is where I went, where I worked and now where I send my own children. Each year gets easier as they get more and more excited to see their friends. You are giving your child the greatest gift! When you and your wife have time alone (when they both go) you will be giving your marriage a gift as well!

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