My First Child is Off to Summer Camp (and I Never Got to Go)
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I never went to summer camp.
In fifth grade, Girl Scout camp presented me with my first opportunity, but my Spanish-born mom who was unfamiliar with and somewhat suspicious of this all-American summer tradition, surmised it was an unnecessary risk to send me away with strangers for a week. Despite my relentless pleading and insistence that everyone else was going, she refused to let me go.
Thus my only experience with summer camp was through movies, most of which involved boy-crazed girls daring each other to lose their virginity before the end of summer or worse, pot-smoking teens killed in inventive ways by masked, deranged killers. Little did I know that these images would haunt me years later when my husband, Sean, and I put our 8-year-old on a yellow school bus for her first trip to Girl Scout camp.
Unlike me, Sean went to camp, so he enjoyed this rite of passage with our daughter in a very different way. His eyes still light up when he recalls sixth grade summer hockey camp, the excitement of packing his duffle bag and the nervous butterflies-in-his-stomach feeling of being dropped off by Mom and Dad for his first trip alone with his buddies.
Truthfully, I was genuinely excited for our daughter. I can still see her nervous, beautiful smile as she peeled herself away from our hugs and climbed onto the bus with all her friends. Here I was 27 years later, finally participating in this childhood ritual and avenging my own sad memory of feeling left out of the experience. My mom didn't let me go, but I was sophisticated and trusting enough to know that Freddy Kruger would not show up at Camp Roundelay. At the tender age of 8, my daughter would get her first taste of adult-chaperoned independence, a formative experience that would foreshadow her flight into adulthood a mere 10 years down the road (yikes, that's soon!).
Nonetheless, as she drove away, twinges of fear and few movie flashbacks came over me and I was surprised by how much sympathy I felt in that moment for my own mom who all those years ago was simply doing the best she knew how. As the bus turned the corner, I said a prayer for my daughter's safety. Then I went home and called my mom, because coming to understand her more everyday has been one of the best and most unexpected gifts of parenting.
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