Spreading wings and gritting teeth: It’s time for sleep-away camp

ELIZABETH MACANUFO, Special to the Jewish Light

Ada Macanufo, age 10, leaves for camp.

I went to Camp Herzl in Minnesota for three weeks, returning on my 13th birthday. I hated it. I missed my family, objected to spending time outdoors and, as a Reform Jew, felt lost among my more religious peers.

And yet, I strongly suggested that my 13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter attend sleep-away camp this summer.

It seemed like a good idea when we first discussed it, back when temperatures were still below freezing. My son hadn’t slept away from us in years, the pandemic hampering the customary sixth grade camp. Both kids had friends attending the camp. We collectively decided they should give it a try.

As their departure date approached, my anxiety increased. My instincts scream to keep them as close as possible at all times. But, as painful as it feels, I know I must encourage their independence, preparing them for life beyond my constant watchful eye.

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I helped them pack, one efficiently and calmly in half an hour, and one less so over the course of several hours with tears. The next day we drove to Potosi. With a final reminder about bug spray and sunscreen, we said our goodbyes with what seemed like a preview of college years. Figure out where you’re going, make sure there’s money in their spending accounts and see ya later, mom.

Elizabeth Macanufo is a nonprofit professional. She and her husband, James, have three children and live in Richmond Heights.

In another sign that I need to take a break from Holocaust-related fiction, I couldn’t help but think of Jewish families separated throughout history. I reassured myself that our separation was (very) temporary and intentional for their maturity.

And fun! They’re supposed to be having fun — during record heat. I waited a full 24 hours before contacting the camp to ask about their plans for my son’s group. He was to spend the full time outside. The camp representative assured me about air-conditioned breaks.

With some peace of mind, I tried to squash my desire to call camp daily to check in. If an urgent issue occurred, they would find me. With my worrywart impulses at bay, I tried to enjoy myself, despite the strangeness of not communicating with my kids.

In their absence, I entertained our younger daughter (who is eager to go to camp as soon as she poops without my company). We swam, left her with “the best babysitter ever” and went to a great ballgame, then swam some more. I enjoyed the brief, lighter load of dishes and laundry.

Intermittently (or maybe constantly), I checked the camp app for recent pictures. I have no photographic evidence that they are enjoying themselves. Yet, I’m hopeful. I’m proud of them for trying something new, existing in the world for a week away from their parents, exercising their own judgment.

In the meantime, I am going down to the camp a day early to enjoy a night in the lodge. You know, to ease the pickup the next morning. And if I happen to see one of my kids on the other side of the lake? So be it. But at least I’m leaving the binoculars at home.