My 11-year-old heads to sleep-away camp for the first time in a few days. He’s going for three-and-a-half weeks—an eternity!—and will be gone over his birthday. I was in denial up until today, when it sunk in that I need to locate, wash, label or otherwise forage for the 2,000 things on his “suggested” packing list. I’m sure this is easy for sleep-away veterans, but as a first-time camp parent, I’m a bit alarmed by the recommended 20-plus pairs of underwear.

To be fair, his camp looks phenomenal; like a resort, really, with food better than what he enjoys at home, watercraft superior to anything he’s ever attempted, a full-fledged comedy program, radio station, ropes course, professional-quality athletic facilities, kids from all over the world and counselors who make the staff at Disney seem dour. This will be good for his confidence. Good for his burgeoning independence. Everything will be fine.

But here’s what I’m worried about right now. First-time camp parents, can you relate?

  • He’s turning 12 far from home, and he keeps asking me if everyone in his bunk will already know one another. I told him he can write anytime he wants (and we can even email him, to be printed out and dispensed)—but this is a kid whose preferred method of contact is texts and memes. How will we communicate?! Telepathically?!
  • Bizarre wilderness injuries, bites, sicknesses…oh, and COVID, in which case he’ll be heading straight home and I might as well toss my tuition money into a campfire.
  • An empty bedroom. I’m bracing for a quieter house, an unslept-in bed, a bedroom that will remain neat but eerily untouched.
  • Will he make friends? Will he like his bunkmates? Will kids pair off and leave him out? Will counselors make sure to include him?
  • This is a child who needs to be reminded to shower and still needs some instruction in doing so. Enough said.
  • I’m convinced I’m going to forget something crucial (like the 20 pairs of underwear), use the wrong labels, pack the wrong type of shorts or somehow neglect an essential element of his camp arsenal. Right now, his room looks like a Target staging area, and no amount of Google spreadsheet planning is giving me a sense of true peace.

Now, I’m sure all this will get done (because it has to) and he will enjoy himself (because how could he not—did I mention the watercraft?), but right now I’m getting an early taste of what it means to send a child off to college for the first time. The packing, the hygiene, the fear of random bug bites: I’ll deal with that. But the empty bedroom for the first time ever? I’m not so sure.