I sent my son away for the summer, and I don’t regret it one bit. While not a revelation on the level of my Andy Griffith aversion, this truth did generate a little buzz beside the pool among my friends.
“I don’t know how you do it, Erin.”
“You know I could never do that either.”
“But I would just miss my kids so much.”
Insert record scratch here. Say, WHAT? Ladies, not only could you, but you may even actually want to. Now, I feel like I should back the story up a bit. I did not ship my fifteen year old off to grandma’s house for the summer, although I’m not taking that one off the table. He wasn’t getting scared straight at boot camp or on a grand tour of Europe either, although any of these options do sound lovely depending on which version of himself he’s sharing with me that day. In fact, I could say in all honesty that I didn’t really do anything. He came to me and asked to work at a local camp on the Chesapeake Bay.
For full disclosure, my older son worked there for the past three summers. So we knew very well what he, and the rest of us, were getting ourselves into. But that didn’t make it a certainty that this boy should go. Working at camp meant that he would only be home for 24 hours every week. This is a huge ouch for a Momma who likes all of her chicks in her nest. Also, because we used his vacation time for the family wedding in Cancun, he wouldn’t have time for any of our other summer family traditions, including our special visit with our friends from Maine that we have been doing for the last 15 years. The home team would be a man down in making all the memories this summer. Oh, and the son who was usually at camp would be home from college, so that was another factor to consider.
Sigh. My summers really aren’t what they used to be.
However, weighed against some of the larger pluses, I swallowed all of my reservations, hesitations, and selfish motivations, and gave him (along with Steve) the parental blessing. Then I packed the old raggedy sheets, the second string towels, and enough bug spray and suntan lotion to marinate him nicely all summer long. Before I knew it, there were no more tasks to distract me and the day came to say good-bye for the summer. We dropped him off to live like one of the lost boys all summer long. If there was a tear in my eye, I’ll deny it.
While I am certainly a woman who can work herself into a fine emotional lather (see exhibits A, B, and C from the year before I sent my oldest son to college), and there is no tin heart here, the truth is that while I did miss him, I didn’t miss him as much as I thought I would. My recent practice learning a new normal certainly made this transition easier, I know. The truth was that he was happy, so I was happy. But, and this is the dirty little secret that got my friends talking, it was an awesome summer for all of us, even, maybe even especially, with him gone.
From my son’s point of view, camp was always a no-brainer-all-good thing. He wasn’t moving away so much as towards something after all. Certainly, from our point of view, he dipped his toe in the waters of independence and found the water just fine. By working his way through real responsibilities with real consequences, he gained a confidence that we couldn’t have given him any other way. Sure, he worked through scheduling conflicts, personnel issues, and the daily challenges that arise in any job, but it was all in a cocoon of safety. He had the directors, his slightly older peers, and the Boy Scouts of America supporting him too. Besides, I was only twenty minutes away if he really needed me.
But if he wasn’t really cutting the cord this past summer, he wasn’t really holding on to it either. While he told us about those times when things didn’t go as planned, when scouters were uncooperative, or when his fellow counselors let him down, it was always after the fact. The storms that swelled and gathered on his shores this summer both literally and figuratively, well, he found a way to weather them. While not exactly sailing his own ship or charting his own course just yet, he was definitely adjusting sails and battening down hatches all by himself.
But the larger story of his summer was that the camp staff became another family for him and a home away from home. Even seeing my son in a different context than we do, they loved him all the same. This did my Momma heart a world of good. Don’t we all in the end just want to send our beloveds out into the world to be seen as the lovely, rare birds they are? But the larger story for me is what was even better: he found a way to create these bonds for himself with his own two hands, his clever head, and his big lovable heart. For a mom who now knows exactly what it means to see kids fly from the nest, it meant he was one step closer to being launch-ready. It eased an anxiety I had about this child, and gave me some indications that we are indeed, despite our long and curving road, actually moving forward.
For us at home, my son’s time at camp meant that we were off the parenting hook in a good way. Anybody who has stared down a summer with a wiley 15 year old boy feels my pain. Teens in general tend towards a state of downtime. Fifteen year old boys elevate this to an art form. With endless options in the Netflix cue and a Snapchat filter for every mood, summer could have been for us one long, tedious conversation about what to do and when to do it. Not managing the program for an active 15 year old boy was a big plus on our end.
However, our greatest windfall was the new and improved version of our son that returned from his ten weeks in the wild. Savvy, skilled, and smarter, my son returned to us looking three inches taller and seeming light years older. It’s funny how just a little time apart changed our dynamics too. The breathing room we didn’t even know we needed actually gave us both some valuable time–to appreciate, to consider, to grow.
Now I’m not advocating that every child leave for the summer, but it wasn’t a negative for us. There are absolutely no regrets from him or from us about the choice we made this summer. Time apart was time well spent. In fact, for this child at this time in this family this time was a blessing we are still grateful for today.
And, next summer, if they’ll have him, I’ll send him away again in a heartbeat.
Hey! Want to buy our new book? I Just Want to Be Perfect brings together 37 hilarious and relatable essays that showcase the foibles of ordinary women trying to be perfect.
Check out our books, “I Just Want to Be Alone” and “You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.”