On Saturday night, we returned from our road trip (the one where we visited Katie’s birth family). On Monday morning, Katie left with my mom to spend a week in Tampa with my parents.
Katie has been looking forward to this trip for months, and although she misses us, she has been doing great. My mom sends me photos of Katie throughout the day, and I eagerly open them, waiting to connect with my little daughter.
Spending a week apart does not mean the same thing as it did when I was a kid. I remember going to visit my grandparents in Minneapolis when I was Katie’s age. I spoke to my parents a couple times on Grandma’s phone, but other than that, our worlds remained separate.
There were no text messages telling my mom I had just eaten lunch, or that I was now playing with the dog, or that I was in the bathtub. There were no digital pictures of me snapped on a cell phone and then emailed to my mom so she could see each activity as it happened.
Are we ever truly apart anymore? We live in the Age of Connection, and it seems that with inventions like Skype, IM, iPhones and the lot, Katie can reach out to hear my voice and see my face anytime she wants, even when she is across the country.
But just because Katie and I can talk throughout the day does not mean we should.
Andrew and I first agreed to let our oldest baby go to Tampa for a week without us because we thought it would be good practice for sleep away camp. Katie is desperate to go away to camp next summer, and when Andrew and I suggested a two-week option, Katie countered with, “How about four?” (This coming from the girl who was very nervous to leave us on Sunday morning and cried in her Daddy’s arms at the airport).
Going away is one of the healthiest things a child can do. I remember how much I loved sleep away camp. I was a nervous, intellectual kid, fraught with anxiety over changes to my routine, and it did wonders for my self-confidence to go across the country and spend four weeks at a camp where I knew nobody in my cabin.
There is something so liberating about going to a place where you can reinvent yourself or find your hidden strengths, where you can be friends with anyone you choose because there are no preconceived notions about who you are.
There is a beloved local sleepaway camp called Camp echo that many Evanston kids attend. But when Katie goes to sleep away camp, it will be to a different camp. It will be to Camp Lake Hubert, way up near Brainerd, Minnesota. That is the camp my family has always attended. I want Katie to go there for tradition’s sake, but also because I want her to experience complete freedom from the known social structure of her Evanston friends.
Will it be harder to go away without a buddy from home? Probably for the first couple nights, yes. But in the long run, I think it will be easier. Katie will be free of obligations and loyalties, free of the agony of balancing existing school friends with new camp friends, and she will thrive in the knowledge that she can rely on herself.
As I ponder the benefits of going away from home, I wonder if my constant wireless connection to Katie will cheat her out of the thrilling discovery of her own independence. I do not plan to call again. I will wait to see if she feels the need to call me. Let her know her own strength and enjoy her own time with my mom and dad.
Katie and I have a secure attachment to each other, and this attachment is strong enough to carry her through when she is away from me. She knows I am there with her, even when I am not physically in her presence (or digitally in her presence).
If I were to pick up the phone and call to see how the day is going, it would be more for my own sake than hers. The best way to avoid being a helicopter parent is to recognize it as it happens and stop hovering. I’ll let Katie stretch her own wings.