Sending Your Child to Camp: A Lesson in Holding Tight and Letting Go

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Melissa Meyerowitz is a mother of two and works in marketing. She and her family are members of Temple Shalom in Newton, MA.

Trying new things can be hard. Sometimes it is refreshing and fun (Waterslides! Ziplines!), and sometimes it is scary and uncomfortable (driving stick-shift…new jobs). In either case, trying new things is a part of life. It’s unavoidable.

As a child I can recall approaching some new things with fear and trepidation, while others were embraced with joy and vigor. As an adult, this approach persisted. As a lifetime ‘Type A’ personality, I have always looked for ways to ease transitions, ramp-up quickly, and avoid catastrophes. Often this meant avoiding particular activities all together in an attempt to preempt an undesired fate. This approach was marginally successful.

Then I became a parent. And it all went out the window.

Having kids means that each day, not only are you trying something new, but so is your child. It also means that you walk the fine line between protection and teaching…fun and uncomfortable…refreshing and scary…daily.

All of these thoughts were made clear to me recently when my oldest child decided he wanted to go to sleep-away camp. Eight years old, never slept away from home before, my baby! He asked to visit Eisner Camp, a Union for Reform Judaism camp in western Massachusetts that he had been introduced to during SHACHARIT – our synagogue, Temple Shalom’s Grade K-6 Jewish education program in Newton, MA and my husband promptly arranged a tour. He came back excited and chatty, telling us how fun it would be, how cool the activities were, how nice the lake was. I felt queasy.

I was sure his excitement would pass. It didn’t. With anxiety I registered him for two weeks in July, and then filled out the required paperwork with as much detail about my child as possible (Type A) in the hopes that the camp would have a full persona work-up completed for him upon arrival.

They didn’t. We unpacked him and said quick goodbyes, and I felt like I left my child in the woods with strangers. And then…crickets. No calls. No letters. “This is good for you,” my husband quipped, “good for you to let go a little.” If this was good for me why was I feeling so panicked?

IMG_3425Five days later a letter arrived and I nearly tackled the postal carrier in my efforts to rip open the envelope. Inside was a short, albeit perfect first letter home that said simply “I am doing great at camp! I passed the deep end swim test! I did sleep well and had an awesome 1st day!” That’s when I finally took a breath.

Subsequent letters told us about taking Krav Maga self-defense classes, kayaking, and more. All things he had never tried before. All things new to him and most likely, a little bit scary. After two weeks when we picked him up he filled us in on all of the details.

“I tried kugel and I really like it!”

“I swam in a lake and I didn’t even mind the slimy stuff on the bottom!”

“I helped feed goats!”

In particular, he told us how much he had enjoyed Limmud at camp, the daily Jewish learning sessions. He shared with us how great Friday evening Shabbat services were, the singing, the dancing and more. He told us he couldn’t wait to celebrate “proper” Shabbat (his words) with us now that he was home.

I told him how proud I was of him for trying so many new things, not the least of which was leaving home to begin with. I told him how brave it was of him to try some of the activities that he normally wouldn’t do. He thanked me and continued about his business, but inside I could see a little flicker of confidence strengthen. He was growing up.

Later that night my husband told me he was proud of me. Proud of me for really letting go for the first time. Like everything else it was a mix of fun and uncomfortable…refreshing and scary.

And I know both my son and I would do it all over again.