Did you go to sleepaway camp as a kid? The friends I know who went to camp say it was a transformative experience, but I’m also curious about the parents’ point of view. What’s it like to be a temporary empty nester? To have a sudden break from parenting? To have your time become your own again? We spoke to MZ Goodman, whose children are at camp this summer. (“I’m alone with my husband for the first time in 10 years,” she said.) Here’s what it’s like…
My daughter Flora is seven, and my son Lex is 10. I told them it was their choice to go to camp for four weeks or seven weeks, and he said four, and she said seven. My daughter wants in on all the action. She’s a crackerjack and wasn’t daunted at all, and my son was nervous but reassured by having his younger sister there. She’s the youngest peanut there.
It’s the camp that my husband went to, a super chill little place on Lake Placid. It’s very low-fi — there’s sailing, taking care of animals, hiking, all sorts of crafts. Every day the counselors present a series of options, so the kids can choose what they want to do. I started going to camp when I was in first grade. Some of my closest friends are people I met there; and my husband feels the same way.
So many moments of motherhood are happy and sad at the same time. I’m happy for my kids, obviously, and happy for me to have a little solitude and peace and quiet, but at the same time, I definitely went into their rooms the day they left and smelled their pillows. We’d stripped their beds, and the rooms were totally neat — and I could imagine them away at college in two minutes and was freaking out. I wanted to cry. They’re really not here. And they really won’t be here, and that’s not so far off. It feels like the beginning of the end. Bittersweet is such a clichéd word, but it’s exactly what it is.
We get a weekly update. My son’s first letter said simply, “I am here. I miss you.” My daughter’s letters have been much more narrative about herself, which fits her personality. Here’s one in its entirety:
“Earlier today I took a shower and got soap in my eyes. And I had lunch on top of Mount Rooster Comb. Happy Fourth of July!”
Some parts are really nice: You eat much healthier food. I’m eating just one dinner, not my “pre-dinner” of meatballs while they’re eating their dinner. I haven’t done any laundry since they left. I only ran the dishwasher once this week! We’ve also been catching up on TV. We’ve been watching The Night Manager. It’s great.
One night at the beginning, my husband came home from work at 10 p.m., and I was in our bedroom reading and he walked into the apartment and yelled, “HELLO!!!!!” And he said, “I just wanted to do that because I wasn’t waking anybody up.”
One of the hardest things for me about motherhood has been losing my alone time. I’m an introvert and really, really need to be by myself to restore my energy. So, I’m grateful to have this time. I’m going back to reading. I’m reading Quiet, which has been on my bookshelf for years. I’m reading A Little Life and Being Mortal.
My husband and I made a rule to try not to talk about the kids all summer. (It was inspired by a Modern Love about a couple who made a similar rule.) I have to say, we’ve been having so much fun. At the beginning, it was like, what do you talk to your husband about for four straight weeks when your kids aren’t there?! So much of what we usually talk about is the logistics, who’s doing what, what time will you be home. And now just having time at the end of the day to talk about anything is really nice. By the end of the summer, I think it will have been a formative experience for us.
When my friend went to camp as a child, her parents actually separated while she was away. And a few other friends told me similar stories. You see why it happens: You look at each other and you’re either really grateful to have downtime together or you look at each other and think holy crap!
The sleep thing is also excellent. Ten years into having kids, I’m used to sleeping with one ear open. But right now no one is going to wake up sick or crying. The quality of sleep is amazing. You actually go to sleep.
But there are little moments. My daughter finds a tremendous amount of change on the street, and I’m commanded to walk around the city with my eyes down to find coins. I’m so accustomed to it and I found 50 cents this week and wanted to call and tell her!
My mom always said to me: It’s a blink of an eye. (And I’d say, “Stop being so sentimental.”) But it’s exactly that.
The day they dropped the kids off at camp.
During visiting day, which MZ said was “delicious.”
Did you ever go to summer camp? Do (or will) your kids?