Last week, my youngest son went off to sleep-away summer camp in New Hampshire. I will never forget the first time I dropped off my oldest son at the same camp, the drop-off didn’t go as planned, and it created a strict routine that our family follows to this day.
When I was a kid, I never heard of someone going to a recreational sleep-away camp. But my wife, on the other hand, had grown up going to Camp Coniston and spoke so fondly of the experience that sending him to overnight camp seemed like a good idea. However, that uncomfortable feeling of kicking your child out of the nest didn’t feel quite right to me, and I remember lying in bed, the night before that first drop-off, saying to my wife, “I can’t believe your parents just sent you to overnight camp.” She assured me that going away to camp helps build independence and that he would make friends. Both sounded plausible but didn’t help me sleep.
The next morning when we arrived at Coniston, I had planned to be stoic, trying hard to send my son the message that I was manly and could manage his leaving us for two weeks. I certainly didn’t want to be the lingering parent who stays at the cabin just a little too long. I wanted the drop off to be easy for him. So, when we arrived, we first went to the dining hall to look at the pictures from when his mom had been a camp counselor. Afterward, we took him to the prerequisite health check and then walked him to his assigned cabin.
At the cabin, we met his camp counselor, who went by the name Skittles. We started to help him unpack his belongings, but the “water works opened.” To his horror, my chin quivered, and I began to cry. I walked out of the cabin leaving him and his mother to finish unpacking while I stood down by the water attempting to regain my composure. They met me down by the lake where we said our goodbyes, and he reassured me he would be okay. He then stated that it was ok for us to leave, and just like that; he ran back to the cabin seemingly ready for the autonomy of sleep-away camp.
The emotional turmoil I initially felt all those years ago has subsided and has given way to our family’s summer camp routine.
Everyone knows that Dad never drops off the kids at camp, he only picks them up. So when it was time for our youngest to leave for camp this summer my wife performed the drop-off duties, and I stayed at home relegated to the pickup. Which is fine by me, because when I go to pick him up, I get to hear about all of the fun stories and see how much he has grown!