How one mom dealt with the emotional roller coaster that is sending your child off to sleepaway camp for the first time. 

By Sally Kohn
Updated June 30, 2017
Campfire by the lake.
Credit: Jennifer Judd-McGee/Getty Images

This week, I dropped my eight-and-a-half year old daughter off for her very first time at sleepaway camp. I’m pretty sure I also dropped off my sanity.

My proudest accomplishment on Sunday, when my partner and I dropped Willa off in the woods somewhere in New England, is that I didn’t cry. Not in front of her, anyway. I waited until I was safely in the privacy of an interstate rest stop pumping gas and thinking about the days and years of childhood burning up like the ozone. (Also, when you’re pumping gas you can’t really wipe your eyes. So the tears rolled down by the gallons.)

Rather than take a shortcut to get back home, my partner and I chose what might be called a long cut—a winding and scenic path that deliberately doubled our drive back to New York. That was the point. We didn’t want to get home anytime soon. I think we wanted to both still be “dropping” Willa off at camp instead of having “dropped” her off, and wrestling with the emotional finality. Eventually we did get home, barely ate, crawled in bed at 10 p.m. and slept for 11 hours. We were exhausted. (Though it was nice to not be woken up at the crack of dawn.)

Monday was pretty much a wash. Although I’m usually a neurotic pre-occupied worrywart, I was even more so. My biggest accomplishment was successfully lying to my partner about exactly how many times I had hit refresh on the camp photo webpage. I managed to convince her the real number was south of 30. It wasn’t. Not even close. I still worry that the camp directors can see how many times I’ve logged on and are worried about my mental stability.

Honestly, the whole thing has been an exercise in growing up, and not just for Willa. I’m don’t think of myself as a helicopter mom… but I do have the impulse to wrap my child in bubble wrap and carrying her around in a Baby Bjorn, so I suppose that’s only one blade away from helicopter. We all know being a parent isn’t easy, and I appreciate time away from my kid as much as the next mom, but still I knew this would be hard for me. I knew I would worry about her and miss her. And so in that sense, maybe I psyched myself up by preparing for the worst. After that, any lesser degree of neurotic sadness is an improvement.

It’s been nearly a week, and I’m no longer rocking myself back and forth on Willa’s bed clutching armfuls of stuffed animals. We’ve heard from the camp director that she’s having a blast and that she’s sleeping and eating. When the camp director asked Willa what she loves most about camp—The swimming? The horseback riding? The musical numbers?—Willa replied that she can’t pick because she loves all of it. It helped to hear that she’s having such a great time.

I'm no longer constantly thinking I forgot to pick her up from school and wondering what I’ll feed her for dinner. My partner and I are having some really fun dates, not to mention still getting to sleep in. And it’s just plain nice to miss my kid, to be reminded of how much better my life is with her in it, and to look forward to our reunion. In the meantime, hopefully she’s learning a ton about games and life and spiders. I’m learning how to let go.