Yesterday my son left for 4H camp. He won't be back until Friday, keeping him away from home for a full four nights. This is the first time in his life that he's been on any kind of overnight trip away from family other than a single night for sleepovers with friends. Not only is he gone, but the camp rules state that he can't have a phone, computer, or any non-emergency contact with the outside world. I have no idea how he is doing, what he's experiencing, or whether he's scared or homesick. It's a bit strange!
I'm not worried about his safety, as this is the largest 4H camp in the country and there are around 1000 kids there and there's plenty of oversight. He's also going with a friend from our neighborhood whose older brother is one of the camp counselors. I'm more worried about his mental state. He's 11 years old and a very tender-hearted boy. We home-school but he's been to public school and knows how to get along with others. He also interacts with other 4H kids so he's not socially isolated. But he's generally a kind, sweet boy who isn't used to the harshness of much of life and hasn't recently had to deal with bullies or kids picking on him. For better or for worse he's not extremely athletic and loves the comforts of home and air conditioning. So I don't know how well he's going to do in camping huts and no video games or TV.
Though the hardest part is probably from our end. My wife admitted that she almost cried dropping him off at the bus yesterday, and it feels very strange not to have him around. We've decided that it wouldn't be quite as bad if we could talk to him, so the uncertainty makes it worse. Though I think I'm handling it better than her, I have to admit a strange feeling in my gut because I can't check on him.
The longer I am a parent the more I realize what my own parents went through. There is a growing up process not just for the kids but for the grown-ups as well. This experience is new for all of us and we adults are having to make adjustments as much as he does. I know we'll be as eager to have him back as he will to be back. As long as he gets back safely and had fun, I'll be okay with the experience. But that will open the door to more freedoms and in a short seven years he'll be graduating from high school.
My daughter is nine, so I know she's next. She has two more years before she can go to camp like her brother, and I'm not sure how well I'm going to handle it. Honestly it will probably be easier for me because she is more independent and social than him and I'll have gone through it once already.
As much as my wife are eager to have the kids gone and the house to ourselves again, I have to say that I'll also miss them a bit. Of course by that time I'll probably be fed up with them as teenagers so we'll see.