When the Kids are Away, Moms Get to Play

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Photo courtesy of Oprah.com.
Photo courtesy of Oprah.com.

You’ve said your goodbyes, maybe wiped away a few tears and pushed down the lump in your throat–especially if it’s your child’s first time at sleep-away summer camp. But now, with the hard part over, it’s time for some fun. Your own.

Few moms enjoy, on any regular basis, the luxury of a good long breather from the daily grind of motherhood: Shuttling kids back and forth to school and activities, doing endless loads of laundry, whipping up a few solid meals every day (and wiping away the crumbs). You know the drill.

Needless to say, sleep-away camp can be as liberating for moms as it is for their kids who are spending a week, a month or more sleeping in cabins with their new BFFs, taking to the woods and the water for days on end, and singing Kumbayah around the campfire. In fact, I spoke to some local women whose summertime hiatus from mommy duty made them feel like they were the ones at camp.

But for some, guilt and worry come first. A friend of mine whom I’ll call Jane recalled to me the scenario a few weeks ago, as she dropped off her little guy for a two-week stint at sleep-away camp for the first time: “Because he’s my youngest, I was so nervous for him,” she said.

That quickly changed when her little guy scrambled up on to his bunk bed, plunked down with his favorite stuffed animal, and asked her in blasé fashion when she was leaving. That gave her the green light she was waiting for.

Once Jane got the mounds of laundry out of the way, the expert gardener got to work in her yard—clearing out weeds, beautifying her flower beds, even building in a little time away with the hubby (Note: this woman wisely signed up her other son for sleep-away camp during the same time). With both kids away, the couple enjoyed a romantic weekend getaway without the highly orchestrated, detailed and complex schedule shuffling of children typically required to make even a short ‘adult-only’ trip happen.

Jane seemed to accomplish just about everything a gal could want to do in her free time. In addition to alone time with hubby and getting the house and garden in order, she caught up with old friends and stopped at historic monuments when she was on the road because there was no one in the back seat protesting. But she still wanted to squeeze in more. “You get real idealistic about all the things you want to do when they’re away, but there’s never enough time,” she said.

It’s a common refrain. “Given that I don’t have any distractions, I’m not being productive enough,” said Sharon Beach, who also had the foresight to schedule her two kids’ summer camps so they landed on the same week. Instead, she’s been lolling around the house doing a lot of pleasure reading. Not a bad way to wile away the time.

During her mommy hiatus, Beach also reveled in doing other things that simply don’t work well when kids around. She and her husband engaged in long, uninterrupted conversations. She went bra shopping. “Now that’s something you can’t haul a kid around to,” Beech said.

And that’s precisely the beauty of sleep-away camp for moms—the ‘me’ time it affords. From the moment you become a parent, the majority of your time is focused on meeting the needs of your kids, and you have to work super hard in order to squeeze in any time for yourself. Some women find it’s just not worth it, and spend the next 21 or so years cow-towing exclusively to their children, letting their own interests and needs fall by the wayside. Others do manage to carve out some time for themselves, but it’s not easy. But with kids happily tucked away at sleep-away camp, women get a momentarily reprieve from being, above all else, “mom.”

“As much as we miss our kids, it’s nice to have some time to remember we’re more than parents,” said Howard County mom Karen Nitkin, shortly after her two adolescent children left for a four-week sleep-away camp. But after spending this lengthy, rare spare time connecting with friends and enjoying movies, dinner, hiking, and biking with her husband, Nitkin was happy to have her kids back at home.

That, perhaps, is the best thing sleep-away camp does for moms: After giving us some much-needed breathing room, it makes us eventually yearn for our kids—fussy demands, dirty socks, and all.


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