My first work-trip away from home when my baby was less than a year old was torture. As happy as I was to get a break from mommy-hood, and to get a full night’s sleep, I couldn’t relax because I was just SURE my baby needed me. Not her daddy. ME. When I got home from my trip and found Baby and Daddy perfectly happy and safe, I breathed a sigh of relief, and knew that future trips would just get easier. The first time is always the hardest.
Then I almost killed my husband because he told me that his first try at solo parenting was really easy because he took our daughter to his parents’ house and they watched her for a couple of days. WHAT?!?! He took my baby and LEFT her with someone else???? I didn’t care that it was her grandparents who had raised three kids of their own and have babysat two other grandkids before our own baby came along. How DARE he – I wasn’t ready for my baby to be cared for by anyone but me (and, I guess, my husband). I was so angry… and so relieved. One of those big parent hurdles that I knew I’d have to jump someday was actually cleared without me even knowing it. Our baby stayed with her grandparents, and she was fine. We had gotten the “first one” out of the way and future stays with grandparents would be smooth sailing.
In retrospect, I’m happy that my husband made that decision without me so I didn’t have to. And since then, I’ve learned to accept and almost appreciate the occasional hurdles that are cleared for me. (heads-up, I kind of a control freak)
Fast-forward seven years, and this summer I signed my daughter up for Girl Scouts Day Camp. She’s only 7, and I didn’t think she was ready for an overnight camp, so day camp was a good intro. Then the planets spun out of alignment and I found that we would actually be out of town during the week of day camp, and our only alternative to not losing the camp deposit was to pay a little bit more and send her to overnight camp. This thing I was so sure she wasn’t ready for was now a reality. Through a mistake on my part (someday I’ll have an organized calendar!), I had to face another parenting challenge: summer camp.
I drove her to camp chatting about my memories of summer camp and all the great fun she’ll have, biting back my tears and hoping that she couldn’t detect the hesitation in my voice. My baby… canoeing, hiking, sleeping in a tent… in bear country! What if she freaked out at night and needed me? What if she missed her family so much that she was miserable at camp and made no friends? Why couldn’t I be a fly on the wall, just watching her to be sure she’s OK?
When I dropped her off, I stuck around and met some of her camp mates and counselors. She climbed on my lap and sat with me while she talked to the other girls. I asked her if she wanted me to go yet and she said no,
stay a few more minutes. Wheeee! My baby needed me! I rocked her, laughed with her, made her pose for more pictures in front of her tent, then asked if she was ready for me to go. And she said yes. Actually, she said, “YEP! Bye Mom!” A quick wave, a high-five with her bunk mate over the announcement that they’ll be doing archery, and she was off with her new friends, and I slowly walked back to my car, listening for her to call me back, which she never did.
All week I wondered if she was OK. I wondered if she was scared the first night in the tent. How could I leave my baby in a TENT, in the WOODS, alone! (other than the rest of the campers, counselors, medics, and cooks) I wondered if she missed the hot chocolate I make her every morning. I wondered if she missed her bed and her toys and her sister (in that order, because they’re at a stage where they don’t really like each other very much). And when Friday rolled around, I drove as fast as I legally could (OK, I pushed the speed limit a little bit) to pick her up. And I was surprised by what I found.
Her first words to me were, “Can I come back next summer???? Can I? Can I? Can I?”
She had a bug bite under her eye that made her look like a defeated prize fighter, but she bravely said it didn’t hurt at all. My baby who cries when I brush the tangles from her hair wasn’t fazed by a wicked bug bite right under her eye! She showed me what she bought at the camp trading post – purchases she made all by herself… without me! She told me about hitting the archery target – with a real sharp-pointed arrow! She informed me that next time I write letters to her at camp, please sign them “Mom” not “Mommy” because she’s way too old to call me Mommy. She peppered her stories with new expressions she picked up at camp. She looked and sounded older. And I could swear she even grew an inch in that short week.
So it turns out my baby… scratch that… my Big Girl is old enough for overnight camp. And probably a lot more. I’m sure she learned a lot about herself that week, and I learned that my kids are a whole lot bigger, braver, stronger than I give them credit for. A scheduling fluke and a salvaged camp deposit resulted in both of us growing up a little bit.