Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Sleep-away camp: Crazy things parents do to cope

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 7:16 PM EDT, Fri July 19, 2013
From racing on visiting day to combing the camp's website, parents of kids at sleepaway camp try to deal with being apart.
From racing on visiting day to combing the camp's website, parents of kids at sleepaway camp try to deal with being apart.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Many parents find the separation hard to bear when their kids go off to camp
  • CNN Parents' Kelly Wallace and her husband joke that they'll stow away with their daughters
  • Visiting day at camp can be especially harrowing, with parents vying to prove their love
  • Parents also send extravagant gift baskets and scour the camp websites for photos

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She's a mom of two girls and lives in Manhattan. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- A common joke in our household is that when (if!) our girls go to sleep-away camp, my husband and I will join them by sneaking into their suitcases and bunking in a nearby cabin.

"No!" scream our girls, ages 5 and 7, making it clear they will want nothing to do with Mom and Dad once they leave for camp.

But there is always Camp Visiting Day, I like to remind them without sharing my fear of the event itself. That fear arose after watching this hilarious video from a few years ago of the moment parents were let into a camp on visiting day. Yes, it looks almost like the running of the bulls.

"There's nothing like it," said mom of three Sarah Maizes, author of the book "Got Milf? The Modern Mom's Guide to Feeling Fabulous, Looking Great and Rocking a Minivan," and all around funny woman on all things parenting related.

Visiting Day

Maizes, whose 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old twins are at sleep-away camp this summer, described the ritual in which parents are lined up, a whistle goes off and they essentially race one another to reach their children.

"You are running to show you care more than the other parents," she added, cringing as she remembered the one year she was late. It all seemed innocent enough. She was driving fast so she wouldn't be late for visiting day, when a police officer pulled her over. He didn't think speeding to be on time at camp was a valid excuse and handed her a ticket, which made her, you guessed it, late.

"Where were you?" her daughter asked, shedding a few tears, when her mom finally arrived. Mom said she was "mortified."

"It's stressful because it's ... like a summer's worth of love shoved into this one little day," Maizes said.

Did Somebody Break a Hip?

Sarah Maizes took this photo of one of the \
Sarah Maizes took this photo of one of the "massive" gift baskets she saw on visiting day.

Another way to show the love? Maizes said she's seen "massive gift baskets" on visiting day filled with games, makeup, candy, gum, jump ropes and those "foam things that fly through the air." "You'd think somebody broke a hip, I swear to God," she joked. "These baskets are so massive. ... They're like huge apologies wrapped up in cellophane. We're so sorry we sent you away. We still love you."

Refresh, Refresh, Refresh

My sister-in-law, Drucie Belman, a mom of two whose 11-year-old son went to sleep-away camp for the first time this year, says she would hit 'refresh' several times a day on the camp's website when her son first went away, hoping to see a picture. She hadn't gotten any letters yet. (She forwarded me a video, which satirizes the "refreshing" that moms of kids at sleep-away camp are doing, but be advised it does contain some offensive language.)

"You look every day for (the photos), and sometimes he's like a dot in the background, and I still send it to my mother-in-law," she said.

Jenny Isenman, founder of the blog, The Suburban Jungle, said she might be up until 1 a.m. some days "watching for the pictures to come in." "We are so overprotective at this point and so involved," the humorist, whose 11-year-old son went to sleepaway camp last year and the year before, joked. "It's like, God forbid you don't see your kid one day. Is he still alive? Is he having fun?"

The Phone Calls

Some camps allow kids to phone home and some do not. Isenman's son was able to call but just for a few minutes each time. "You get that phone call from your kid and it's you and your husband on the phone and all hell breaks loose," she said.

"The moms just get so frustrated with the dads. They get so frustrated with the questions they ask. They're not the right questions," she added.

She joked about how her husband asked his son if he received his letters, and when her son said yes, her husband asked which letters he got. "I'm like, what do you mean which ones?" she said. "I have friends who have literally taken the phone from their husband's hands and they're like, 'Your time is up.'"

Why Do It?

I have never been to sleep-away camp, and somewhat dread the year my girls will feel they are ready to go. I know it would be an amazing experience for them, but at the same time, I love spending time with my kids and can't imagine not being with them a chunk of the summer. So I wanted to know, from moms who've been there, why they send their kids in the first place and how they cope.

My sister-in-law said she wanted to give her son a chance to "fly free" and "reinvent himself" since he's the second child with an older brother who gets lots of attention.

"I think he was able to have a super fresh start. He didn't have to be the kid who wore glasses. He didn't have to be the chess kid, he could be whatever," she told me as she was driving to Massachusetts to pick up her son from camp. "I cope with it because he's doing exactly what he should be doing."

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

Maizes' advice to me and other moms considering camp is to think about how great it can be for the kids. "Summer camp is an experience to give your children that is unlike any other experience and one of the best growth experiences you can possibly have so ... know you are doing the right thing."

"You remind yourself how much fun you had when you were a kid," said Isenman. "You can't take it away from them because of your own sadness or your own homesickness."

"So that's how you cope and also a lot of wine," she added.

Follow Kelly Wallace on Twitter and on Google+ and like CNN Living on Facebook.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
The situation in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, throws America's problem with talking about race into sharp relief.
updated 10:25 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Mo'ne Davis is the first girl to throw a shutout in the Little League World Series. She's an inspiration, but will she change the face of the sport?
updated 8:36 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
There is a reason why when people post pictures of themselves during their middle school years on Facebook for "Throw Back Thursday," we all stop and take notice.
It could cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise your child -- and that's not even including college costs, according to new government estimates.
updated 12:09 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
From parent to son, uncle to nephew, there's a raw, private conversation being revived in America in the wake of violence in Ferguson, Missouri.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Children sometimes get left out of our conversations about mental illness. The truth is, they suffer too.
updated 5:14 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
CNN's Kat Kinsman says that talking freely about personal mental health and suicidal thoughts can help others.
updated 1:26 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
morning person
Easy tips on how to improve everything from your dinner order to the song in your head to your career.
updated 1:33 PM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
The case of an Arizona mom who left her kids in a car during a job interview highlights the fluid line between bad parenting and criminal behavior.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
A children's book about gun rights has benefited from an unexpected boost in sales after it became the subject of a mocking segment on a talk show.
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
Some campers and counselors keep the campfire flames burning with summer flings that become lifetime commitments.
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
After letting her 7-year-old son walk from their home to a park to play, a Florida mother faces up to five years in jail for child neglect.
updated 11:36 AM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Lindsey Rogers-Seitz, who lost her son in a hot car, hopes mandatory technology in cars and car seats will stop child death from heatstroke in cars.
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Not to mention your jeans, bras and pillows? Here's a definitive guide to keeping all your quarters clean.
Imagination Playgrounds have snaking tunnels, platforms and springy mats just like any other playground. But they're different in one fundamental way -- they're built by kids.
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Grammy Award-winning singer Sarah McLachlan, a 46-year-old divorced mom of two girls, talks about parenting, sex and whether women can have it all.
updated 7:54 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Researchers say physical punishment actually alters the brain.
updated 4:41 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
The case of a South Carolina mother arrested for allegedly leaving her 9-year-old daughter at a park while she was working sparks debate over how young is too young to leave a child alone.
updated 11:15 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
CNN's Kelly Wallace reveals 5 common parenting mistakes that many parents admit to making.
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Is it a bad idea for parents to let kids drink underage at home, or does an early sip make drinking less taboo? Studies are divided on the subject, which is a tough nut for parents to crack.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cellphones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night
updated 2:40 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
Professional photographer Timothy Archibald uses his camera to connect with his autistic son.
updated 9:16 AM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
Do you wish you could outsource the summer cooking, cleaning, and camp planning associated with kids? Here are 5 ways to do it -- and why you shouldn't feel guilty about it.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
The death of a Georgia toddler in a hot car raises the question: should government or automakers get involved to prevent accidental deaths from heatstroke inside a car?
updated 11:04 AM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
It's not just the 'baby blues.' Postpartum depression affects about 15% of new mothers. Here's what one 'warrior woman' is doing to fight it.
Post your personal essays and original photos, and tell us how it really is.
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
What does it mean to run "like a girl"? A new viral video points out that the answer changes depending on whom you ask.
updated 5:22 PM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
CNN reporter Moni Basu lived in the U.S. nearly 30 years before becoming a citizen. Here's what it meant to pledge her allegiance.
updated 5:07 PM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
Her daughter was cut from the team. Her son didn't get into that coveted honors class. It was hard but also helpful. Here's how one mom learned to find lessons in failure.
updated 11:56 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
The presence of transgender and gender nonconforming youth at NYC Pride March is latest effort to increase visibility of the transgender community.
updated 6:27 PM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
A new ad by the hair care company Pantene asks why women are always apologizing and raises the question of whether women say "sorry" more often than men.
updated 8:48 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The American Academy of Pediatrics announced new guidelines this week urging doctors to tell parents to read to their infants and toddlers.
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Sat June 28, 2014
David Martinez grew up thinking he was just an average American kid. When he learned he was undocumented immigrant, it made him re-examine his beliefs about Mexican identity.
updated 1:47 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
A new survey says that working fathers, like working mothers, find it hard to balance work and family.
updated 6:29 AM EDT, Fri June 20, 2014
Jenny Mollen has no issue tweeting her breastfeeding. The new author talks motherhood and having a (more) famous husband
updated 5:20 PM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
Experts say "mean girl" behavior begins as young as elementary school. Here's how to prevent raising a mean girl.
updated 6:40 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
While dads today don't get the same respect and attention as moms, and are often depicted as clueless, they've come a long way, baby.
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT