Leaving My Kid at Day Camp is Like Leaving An Important Body Part With a Stranger

And then hoping I'll get it back at the end of the day.
Publish date:
August 7, 2012
parenting, kids, anxiety, new moms, summer camp, daycare

My son: flushed cheeks, baby fat, skinned knees and scabbed shins, knobby elbows, a curly mop of hair, narrow little bird body. When he was born and the doctor placed him on my chest, I said only, “He’s perfect.”

Sounds a little corny, I know, and maybe that’s been in a stupid movie at some point or another, but becoming a mom softened all my rough edges. That’s what came out of my mouth in that moment because I meant it.

Sometimes I find myself looking at him and a tiny voice inside me screams “Stay little!” even though in my heart of hearts I know the great joy of parenting is watching your child grow up. I can feel his little-kid-ness slipping away each day.

Just a couple of weeks ago I tweeted, “The thing I grew in my uterus seven years ago is making his own peanut butter sandwich” which is really just a funny way of coping with the fact that one day, before I know it, I will be the obsolete model.

And I want that to happen. I want to make myself unnecessary so that one day he can function completely on his own; and yet, the thought of this is totally devastating. And yet, I parent him in a way that I hope will guide him to make smart decisions of his own one day. And yet I don’t want to think about “one day.” And yet.

One of the hardest parts of parenting, for me, has been relinquishing control of Oliver’s care to someone other than me. After all, I grew him in my body. I breastfed him and held him close most of the day, while I watched bad daytime TV or read books from the library, or just looked at him and watched him sleep. I spent every waking moment with him for the first year of his life, with only a handful of exceptions.

In fact, the first time I went anywhere without Oliver -- I think he was like a month old -- was for a walk to the store, just around the corner. It probably was only like 10 minutes, and I’d left him with his dad. Not that I don’t trust his dad, Seth; I do. But I felt as if Oliver and I were one being. It was like leaving a part of me behind while I went out to pick up hand soap.

That feeling is one I still have to this day. Through years of dropping Oliver off at daycare, preschool, elementary school and summer day camp, I can’t shake this feeling that I’m leaving an important body part (arm, intestines, ears) with a stranger and just hoping that I get it back in one piece at the end of the day.

Like his day camp this year, which traveled around to various parks in Los Angeles. A daily conversation with the teenage camp counselor to whom I was entrusting my child’s life: Oh, OK 17-year-old dude, so you won’t let anyone steal my heart, right? Because I’m going to need it back at the end of the day. I know my anxiety is slightly irrational, but it’s there.

I didn’t even WANT to send him to day camp this summer. One advantage to working from home is that I can make my own schedule and spend more time with my kid. But I also know that my kid is the kind who needs constant interaction with other kids. When I was his age, I wanted nothing more than to hole up in my room alone, with a book. He is the opposite. He wants to be near other kids, to talk to people, to run around and scream his head off. So day camp was a necessary evil, at least for a couple of weeks.

Adding to my worry is the fact that in the last month, two little girls have been abducted from my home state of Iowa, and other kidnapping attempts have been reported in my hometown. If that can happen there, in a “safe place” like Iowa, it can certainly happen here in Los Angeles, a sprawling conglomeration of communities linked by concrete arteries and strip malls. Even after 14 years here, there are times I feel like everyone is a stranger.

When Oliver is away, it's just me and his LEGO constructions. This is Slave I, which he saved up all his Christmas/birthday/allowance money to buy and then built all by himself.

Right now Oliver is two states away, with his dad. At least they’re visiting family, so that makes me feel better. But I still can’t shake the feeling that something is missing; that the fact that I am not there with him somehow puts him in danger, even though I know that’s silly. He’s with his dad, who, like me, would protect Oliver’s life with his own.

But I tell myself that nothing bad is going to happen to my child. He is going to return to me, happy and healthy, and full of stories about all the fun things he did and the new experiences he’s gained. I’ll have my heart back soon enough, and it will beat just fine.