Separation anxiety

We tell ourselves it is necessary to send our children away on their own to prepare them for adulthood. I am beginning to believe we must send our children away on their own to prepare us for their adulthood.

Carla and Barron, in his scout uniform

It’s hard to tell who is more unsure about going to camp, Carla or Barron.

Last Sunday morning we dropped our 11-year-old son off at the Publix parking lot where he and about 40 of his fellow scouts boarded a charter bus bound for a week at Camp Rainey Mountain near Clayton, Ga. Only a month ago we dropped him off for a three-night mini-camp for new scouts at Fort Yargo State Park, so this experience was supposed to be only marginally more difficult.

For some reason, it’s not.

Since we left him he has not been far from my thoughts. Even though I have complete confidence in the adult chaperones and camp staff, I find myself wondering how he is faring emotionally with being away from home on his own for an extended period of time.

Oh, you should hear the speeches I make to Carla, lecturing her on the need for Barron to have these formational experiences of independence within safe boundaries. I have boldly proclaimed the benefits to his self-confidence and maturity. I make definitive statements about his safety and enjoyment of the merit badge classes.

In reality, I’m trying to convince myself.

In their wisdom, the troop leaders sent an e-mail to parents on Wednesday reassuring us that all is well. They even included a wish list from each scout. When I saw that Barron’s wish was for a “1989 Michael Keaton Batman Batmobile,” I knew he was just fine.

I’m beginning to understand that the biggest problem with sending your children away is the disconnection. He’s spent a week with grandparents before, and I’ve taken him along with the other church kids to Passport Kids camp the past two years. What makes this different is that we can’t talk to him. We haven’t heard from him. We can’t know how he is really doing.

As they say at the church, I’m “reaping what I’ve sown” for all the times in college I went weeks without calling home. And think, this is just the beginning!

Noah and Barron load the bus for camp

Best bud, Noah, left, and Barron, right, load their footlockers onto the charter bus bound for a week at Camp Rainey Mountain in Northeast Georgia. Photo courtesy of Chip Johns.

I am certain that he is loving his canoeing and woodcarving classes. I’m sure first aid is interesting. He will greatly benefit from the survival swimming as he learns the Bear Grylls-esque skill of turning his clothes into a flotation device and treading water until rescued. Cognitively, I get it. Emotionally, I need some assurances he’s OK.

As parents it’s hard to conceive, give birth, care for every need, teach, nurture, guide and prepare our children then suddenly at age 18 send them out into the wild. It’s natural and unnatural all at the same time.

This week I’ve realized that Barron needed to go to camp to teach us how to be his parents when he’s out of the nest as much as he needed to go to learn new skills and how to be on his own.

When we show up at the church to pick him up tomorrow, I’m sure we will hear the details of a great week. There will be low moments he’ll tell us about, but if minicamp is any indication, he’ll be singing “Bo Diddly Bop” and chanting “You Can’t Ride in My Little Red Wagon” while breathlessly re-telling us the jokes he heard around the camp fires and every adventure he and his best friend, Noah, experienced.

And I’ll savor the moment, knowing that 18 follows quickly after 11, and the time we have him to ourselves under our roof is limited.

Maybe next year will be easier – for me and for him.

What was it like for you when you were a kid and went away on your own for the first time? Have you sent your child away? What was it like for you the first time? Do you have an empty nest? How do you cope with parenting from a distance? How do you maintain contact with your college-aged kids? Leave a comment below and share your parenting journey with us.   

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About lanceelliottwallace

Lance Elliott Wallace lives and writes in the Atlanta suburb of Lilburn. A native of Texas and a former resident of Florida and Alabama, Lance married a Georgia girl and together they are rearing three Georgia boys. By day he communicates for Georgia Tech engineers and scientists. He spends his early morning hours praying, writing and running.
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3 Responses to Separation anxiety

  1. I think the look on Barron’s face in the photo above is one of humiliation rather than apprehension. His mother is hugging and kissing him and making him pose for photos in a public parking lot in front of 40 of his peers. But….a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do.

  2. Justyna says:

    You made me cry, and you know that’s not an easy thing to do.

  3. Paula Parris says:

    Great essay, Lance! I remember those days as if they were yesterday!

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