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Summer Camp teaches my kids (OK, me) to let go

My kids started their first foray into summer camp together last week. It’s a little 4-day-a-week day program at a church, where for 4 hours they go and paint and snack and play on the playground and learn music and dance and make friends. It’s not too hard for them to love it. This is also the first time that I’ve been alone without both of them for 4 hours a day, 4 days a week. I hoped when I signed them up that I’d get more work done, write more, exercise, catch up with friends, and be generally productive. All moms (9-5ers, SAHMs, new moms, seasoned moms) all need time to get Mom Duties done, too, right? Errands would be accomplished with the fluidity of an ice skating routine. Grocery shopping would be done with so much peace and efficiency that I’d be chosen to write an instructional manual on it. Tending to house to-dos would be a breeze (heck, maybe I’d take care of our yard so impressively, I’d start my own lawn service gig. (“Classy Sassy & Grassy,” perhaps? Trademark it.) And I also had visions of long, winding hours, full of appointments without having to perfectly finagle babysitters and naps. Even a GYN visit might start to feel as luxurious as a pedicure with all this sprawling time. The 16-hour-per-week world was my oyster.

But it hasn’t been all freedom and celebration.

After my husband dropped them off, he went to a coffee shop for a meeting and I went back home. The driveway was empty because my husband had the car. The sprinkler we’ve been using the last several week of summer stood alone in the driveway, still hooked up to the sprinkler, looking as if it was just waiting for someone to come play with it. The sight of it, so quiet, made my eyes fill with tears. I fended off the tears, resolving quickly that my reaction was normal. Of course the first day is strange!, I reassured myself. I opened front the door with some anticipation of one or both of them hearing the door open, and running towards me with a “MOMMY!” and a big hug before a request for a snack or a book or a puzzle. Ha! How strange! This must be a part of the transition!, I justified. And then I found myself listening for my son’s babbling in the monitor, and I couldn’t help myself. I walked back to their rooms. Their rooms, like the sprinkler in the front yard, were silent. Each room smelled like each kid. Their bears waited for them to come home. The air was so still.

Oh. This might be hard…for me.

I had a realization the night before they began that there wouldn’t be many days where my son and I would go on a bike ride alone, my daughter at school. Like a lot of mothers, I looked for some time to open up during the day, but maybe the time would feel a little too open. I wouldn’t get as much of my son’s smell when I hold him for yet another snuggle, my daughter’s questions and curiosity. I remember feeling excited when both of my kids gained a bit more independence. Then again, there are moments like these where that sweet, nagging feeling of wanting to be needed, wanting that little voice to call out for a snack or help with a puzzle, re-emerge. Much of motherhood is paradoxical: the ebb and flow of our children’s needs and our own; the phases of independence and intense connectedness; the passing of time and the drawn out hours.

Each day, they’ve come home sweaty and red-faced, hopped up on new adventures. My husband and I drew information out of them: how were the teachers? Did you have fun? Did you make some friends? Did you make some art? Did they have Goldfish for your snack? When they weren’t too tired to answer, their answers reflected pure joy and fun. I’ve always said to my daughter, “I’ll miss you at school, but I always know you’re having fun!” One day after I picked them up I said, “I missed you guys!” and she answered, “But Mommy, we were having fun!” Atta babe. It reminded me that sometimes, my kids are fine – beyond fine, thriving – and it’s me who has to let go a bit. And we’re all better for it.

The time does march on in that paradoxical way: it goes by so fast yet can creep and tip toe on, making us want to nudge the clock forward. And my new-found 4 hour days are that way too, some fly by in an instant and other days I check the clock thinking I’ve forgotten to pick them up on time.

Last night, my 18 month-old son (who is your quintessential little wild man) sat on my lap and read a bedtime story for the first time. No joke, he’s never, ever been willing to do that before. I wanted that time with him last night, and this particular night, he wanted the time too. He sat and listened to the story about buzzy bugs and fuzzy caterpillars and asked for more. We read it 3 times. He’d lean forward to touch the page, and then snuggle back into my chest. I reflected on the other times I’d sat in this rocking chair with him, in our journey together. One moment that came to me was in our frustrating days of breastfeeding when I couldn’t keep up with his demands. I rocked there in the quiet dark (but with the noise all in my head), trying to soothe him and give him what he needed. And then the memory of the last night I ever nursed him there, when he was a year old, when he just decided he didn’t want it anymore. And I rocked him to accept that fact within myself, almost trying to rock us into the transition of that part of our time together coming to a close.

Now, here I sat, 8 months later, with my big boy holding his cup, listening to the story about bugs, and looking up at my face every now and again with a toothy grin. Another 8 months will pass, and I’ll remember this moment. I’m hoping that what I’ll feel is that I can gather these precious glimpses and savor them among the long, hard days. I’m hoping that I’ll miss them, but also, I’ll know we’re having a lot of fun.

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