Forty-eight hours. That’s how long I have without one. single. child. in my home requiring food or their missing sandal or an arbiter for sibling warfare or a warm body at which to aim a stream of nonstop chatter. Well, I had forty-eight hours as of 4 p.m. yesterday. I’m already down to 29 hours. Shoot.
Yesterday, we dropped off our oldest and youngest at an Episcopal church camp about an hour away. The oldest, who has gone to camp for six years now, will stay for a whole week, while the youngest is only doing a three-day, two-night “mini camp,” this being his first time. The middle child is off with my parents, who have made a lovely tradition of taking their grandchildren on intergenerational programs run by Road Scholar.
When my kids go away to camp, I don’t send them care packages, letters, or e-mails. I don’t call the camp to make sure they’re okay or stalk the online photos posted on the camp’s Facebook page. From the media stories that pop up every summer (the latest is this New York Times piece about how parents sneakily undermine camps’ “no care packages” rule), I appear to be some sort of rare species of parent who is so grateful to have a child-free house that I would never even think of pestering the hardworking camp staff with my overbearing need to control and know every detail of my kids’ lives.
I don’t miss my children when they’re gone, whether to camp for a week or for school for a day. I experience a momentary sick feeling any time I leave my kids behind somewhere for something more significant than a school day, or when they drive away in someone else’s car for a multi-day adventure I won’t be part of. Having spent the last 13-plus years orienting my time and attention primarily toward keeping three small people happy and healthy, it still feels unnatural and strange to hand them over to other people for days at a time. For a moment, anyway. And then it just feels great, as I realize I can wake up without having to immediately have a conversation with a small one eager to tell me some vital breaking news, and go through an entire day without having to give a fig about anyone else’s teeth, clothes, appetite, or schedule.
With my kids gone, I could do anything I want with my time. While my husband and I did enjoy dinner and a movie last night, and I will likely do some swimming and take in a yoga class, what I most need to do is write to meet some deadlines. To be able to write all the way until dinner time is a rare luxury, and I plan to take full advantage. I’ll be glad to see my kids when they return, but for now, I’m enjoying the silence and have work to do. And I am not convinced that my lack of hyperinvolvement in my kids’ lives, my sheer lack of concern about whether or not I’m allowed to send them a care package, my grateful willingness to let someone else worry about my kids’ whereabouts, meals, and pastimes for a few days, is as unusual as media accounts of modern parenting culture would have us believe.