By Heather Barrow
I got home last night from dropping my eight-year-old daughter Claire off in North Carolina for her first time at sleep away camp, which will last 12 days. I’m not quite sure what I was thinking this time last year when I signed her up without even visiting the camp beforehand. I did not go to camp. My sister and I weren’t even allowed to sleep over at friends’ houses because my mom was extremely protective of us. My husband on the other hand started going to camp when he was seven, and went every summer through his teenage years. His sister, mom, grandmother and great aunt (who is now 103) went to the camp Claire is attending. I knew if I did not send her to camp, and this specific one, I would be breaking a tradition that went back generations. Claire is healthy, well rounded, adventurous, outgoing and was chomping at the bit to attend camp, so I gave in. I have learned after my first camp drop off that NICU moms don’t make good summer camp moms. Here’s why:
1. The local hospitals are not up to our standards. Most camps are understandably located in the middle of the mountains for the scenery and activities expected at a great summer camp. That also means that hospitals are few and far between. On the drive in to camp I was frantically searching the Internet for more information on the only hospital in the city. Having been spoiled rotten by our local hospitals, and the amount of time I spent in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with Hill and the children’s emergency room with Claire, I was underwhelmed with what I found on this particular hospital. Bennett was not impressed when I asked him how we could find out the local hospital’s plan to medevac a camper to a better hospital if needed.
2. Minimal communication. Campers are not allowed to call home, only write letters. The moment we pulled out of the camp I felt nauseous from sheer panic. Leaving my firstborn child was against every fiber of my being as a mother. I wanted to talk to her to know she was OK but I knew it wasn’t happening. Even if she wrote me a letter every day (which I begged her to do) the first one won’t arrive until the end of this week. We’ve all seen the posts about hysterically funny letters from campers. In the daily letters I write to Claire, I can relate to the one from a camper that says ‘these wet spots are my tears.’ Luckily I have a wonderful sister-in-law who sent her sister, also dropping off a daughter at camp, to check on Claire after we left. She said Claire was already right at home.
3. Complete loss of control again. NICU moms know how terrible if feels to have no control over your child’s health when they are in the hospital. Although Claire was not my NICU baby, I have attempted to control her safety just as much as Hill’s. Dropping her off at camp and having no control over her health and well-being is terrifying. Will she wear sunscreen? Will she get tick bites? Will she take extra risks during horseback riding? Please, please don’t dive into water until you are 100% sure of how deep it is. On the way up, she told me I would be THE worst camp counselor. She said I would make campers wear helmets and safety gear for everything from the zip line to swimming, running after them yelling ‘be careful!’
4. Stalker tendencies re-emerge. I was a big-time stalker in the NICU. From doctors to nurses to specialists, I needed to know which person was seeing Hill and why at all times. I have noticed my stalker tendencies re-emerging with Claire through the photos posted by the camp. Just yesterday they posted 300 photos on the private website and she was not in one (I checked twice). In the email I sent to her today (we can only write once per day) I couldn’t resist saying “I looked through all of the camp photos they posted from yesterday, the Renaissance party looked so fun. I didn’t see you in any of the pictures. We would love to see how much fun you are having so try to get in a few.” Subtle, right?
5. They are OK without you. I want Claire to have the best time at camp and I don’t want her to be sad or miss us for a minute. If she has a great time, that also means she is OK without me. That is part of growing up but also difficult for most parents to accept. Clearly, Claire wants and needs to escape the maximum-security Barrow nest and spread her wings. I only hope she happily flies back home (in one piece) after her big adventure. I can sleep a little easier knowing we picked a reputable camp, with wonderful girls and a staff that will take the best care of her.
Speaking of flying, to my absolute horror, Hill is already talking about one day going to camp. Telling Hill he could go to camp when pigs fly was not the most mature response. I only know that sending my NICU baby to be looked after by strangers does not seem like a possibility right now, and that’s OK. Luckily, Hill is not as sad about Claire being at camp as I am. He writes “Dear Claire, I will miss you even though I will have some peace. Love, Hill.”