I picked up my youngest daughter from camp yesterday. This year, she wasn't a camper. She was a counselor-in-training. She spent almost two weeks away, learning to think and act like a counselor. It's a big transition with a lot of responsibility. Growing up is sometimes hard to do.
As we gathered up her things and drove home, I was reminded of the first time she went away to camp. I wrote a column about that, too. It was first published on July 4, 2005…
My youngest child, the little one, went away to camp for the first time this summer. It was a big milestone. There were a few tears and there was a lot of separation anxiety. For me, anyway. As far as I can tell, my daughter is doing just fine.
I don’t know why I’ve had such a hard time adjusting to her absence – the longest we’ve ever been apart – it’s not like I haven’t already sent three other children off to camp for the first time. I’ve been here before. I know she will have a wonderful experience. And I’ll survive. And we’ll both look forward to the next time.
But, you see, I can’t forget that this is my last child and that means every first is also the last.
One of the sweetest, least complicated, rewards of parenting is the pleasure of being the one who opens the door to a wide, wonderful world for a child.
Just as I did for my other children, I held my youngest child and dipped her toes in the ocean and showed her the mountains for the first time. I read the first poem and sang the first song she ever heard. I fed her ice cream, and peaches and chocolate for the first time.
She is almost 10 years old. We’ve passed first words, first steps, first birthday and first grade, forever. She’s gotten her first bicycle, and her first stitches.
I know it sounds melodramatic. I know there are still so many firsts to look forward to. She’ll move on to middle school and then high school. Then, all too soon, there will be a first date, first kiss, and the first broken heart. She’ll take that first drive, and before we know it, move away for that first day of college. She’ll get her first job, her first house or apartment and, perhaps, her first child.
She has a lifetime of firsts ahead of her, but more and more, what she will do and learn and experience won’t involve me.
Now, she is striding confidently out into the world, and I’m the one taking baby steps. I won’t be able to keep up.
She will be home in a few days. And when I pick her up I suspect we’ll both be a little more independent, a little more grown-up.
My daughter went away to camp and I cried. But it wasn’t just the thought of a long week without her that brought tears to my eyes. It was the reminder that the little girl who dropped my hand – the hand she had been clinging to – and ran off to play with her new friends, is my last child, and my last chance to get it right.
She is my last chance to see life for the first time.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org