Sleepaway Camp Controversy: Who is Really Roughing It?

We’re going to need more socks and underwear.

It’s June, which means it’s time to start packing my son for his second summer at sleep away camp. This year, there’s less nerves, but more bittersweetness, as I know he will again have the time of his life, but I now know also the hollowness of being without him for seven whole weeks after we had our first go round last summer. I thought it would be hard for him, but easy for me to be down a kid for two whole months (mini vaca- woo hoo!), and it was the complete opposite. When I tell people that I missed him more than I expected to, I imagine they think me horribly cold and doubly cruel for the question I get more often is “So why do you even send him?” Why would anyone want to punt their children during the best time of year?

I send him because I never had the chance.

My parents didn’t believe in it. My dad didn’t want to pay for any diversions but “allowed” my mom to work at a local day camp and barter so we kids could attend for no charge. But if it were up to him we’d be relegated to the backyard swing set every summer. That was fun, and I ultimately met my husband that way, but I never had the extra sets of friends from all over that my friends who went to sleepaway did. I wasn’t ready or prepared to live with a stranger when I went to college, and I certainly wasn’t independent enough to take care of myself. I was 18 and far too coddled and way too needy. I want it to be different for my children.

I send him because he needs a break.

He’s the oldest child. That’s a lot of pressure. He loves his siblings dearly, but he goes bananas when the attention is skewed (and it’s always skewed) to the younger ones. We ask him to help us out, pull his weight, take on responsibility, but we sometimes forget he is still a child. He needs some time to just be one. He has a very rigid schedule throughout the school year. He plays a ton of sports, he has a lot of homework and a rigorous school curriculum. While the camp he goes to is not exactly loosey goosey (i.e. Still a decent amount of structure), and he still plays a lot of sports and learns a ton- it’s on his own terms and with no parents willing him to score goals or run faster or try harder- his intensity comes from within while he is away. 

I send him because it builds his character.

When you’re on your own and there’s no one around to fight your battles or to force you to eat your vegetables or to socially engineer your friendships (which I am wholeheartedly against!), you’ve gotta figure out a way to make do for yourself. Finch came home a responsible kid who keeps his room clean, wants to eat healthy, and makes friends with everyone. He tried new activities like hiking and fishing and avoided things he didn’t love like ropes and climbing. He was the king of the Gaga court and every older boy knew his name and cheered for him on visiting day. I can’t take credit for any of that, and boy does that make me proud. 

I send him so he can branch out.

We live on an insular island that tends to get a bad reputation in the outside world. It’s easy to think that this is all there is, these are the people you are stuck with for the rest of your life. While most of the kids at camp do ultimately come from more affluent areas and many of the kids look and dress similarly to those in our neighborhood (and Finch himself), I like that he is part of a unique society, he isn’t tethered to his own backyard, and will always have a friend in other counties or states outside our immediate surroundings if he ever needs to get away from the bustle of home. 

I send him so he can fly.

I’m packing feverishly to make sure he will have everything he needs in the 7 weeks he is away from us. Every sock I label, every shirt I fold is tucked into its respective ziploc bag with a sprinkle of love. Plenty of moms (including my very own) may never understand why I let him go away for so long at such a young age. They think I’m mean and selfish to be sending off my baby to fend for himself. But I don’t see it that way at all. Just like a mama birdie pushes her young one out of the nest before he develops his full wing span, this Bertie holds back tears and immense longing as her baby goes off to find his way in the world without her. For all the letters we write, the junk we bring up on visiting day, the comic books and magazines we mail, I think simply letting him go is the greatest gift I could give him. 


6 thoughts on “Sleepaway Camp Controversy: Who is Really Roughing It?

  1. I love this. I always wished my parents would let me go to sleep away camp when I was younger and I envied the experiences of my peers who got to go. When the time comes, if my daughter wants to go, I will absolutely let her. No matter how hard it is to miss them, it is also important that we let them experience the world, find themselves, and flourish without us over their shoulders.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that’s cool! Summer is longer than 7 weeks, so you still have time with him. 🙂
    I loved sleepaway camp (I went two summers to a gymnastics camp, in a different state, actually several states away), and I think it did prepare me for moving away for college and making new friends. You’re really helping him, and obviously he loves it!!!!


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