After almost a decade of parenting, I thought I was ready for this, but it turns out I wasn’t.
I didn’t expect to spend all day — and much of the night — looking at my phone waiting for news.
I didn’t think I would be the first of my friends to break and send a group text, "Have you heard anything?”
I didn’t expect the house to feel so empty and for me to feel so lost.
It was only school camp for goodness sake! And my nine-year-old daughter was only away for three days.
But why hadn’t we heard anything? Why didn’t we get updates from the bus, or a simple message telling us they had arrived safely?
With apps such as Class Dojo, parents are now accustomed to receiving almost daily reports of their kids’ progress. When my daughter went on a 15-minute tram ride into the city for a school excursion to the museum I received so many photos from teachers it was bordering on spam.
So why, when our kids are so far away from home — well, two hours’ drive! — do we hear nothing? Is no news good news or is no news tomorrow’s front page horror story?
And quite aside from my catastrophising, what if my daughter is homesick? Does she need a cuddle? Will anyone give her one?
At least my daughter had boarded the bus to camp excited and all smiles. The parents whose children didn’t want to go to camp or were in tears beforehand had even more to worry about over the three long days ahead.
You’re probably rolling your eyes at this point, preparing to compose a tweet about our lawnmower/helicopter/snow plough parenting or whatever other vehicular metaphor for parenting that’s specifically designed to make mothers feel bad about ourselves.
But hold that tweet, because I just want to point out that our generation of mothers are expected to be on top of every detail of our children’s lives.
The definition of good mothering is so extreme it includes knowing the nutritional profile of everything our kids eat, what they wear and who they associate with.
We are supposed to know our kids’ friends, their parents, be across every app they look at, every TV show, every music video.
We are encouraged to help with homework, read to them every night, and volunteer at the school and extra-curricular activities.
Mothers who don’t know where their young kids are at any given moment, who they are with and what they are doing, risk being accused of being negligent, selfish and undeserving of even having children.
And here we are, after almost ten years of intensive mothering, forced to go cold turkey.
For the first time ever we were totally reliant on someone else to look after our babies and we had no way of contacting them to see if these other people were doing a good job and if our kids were okay.
Rationally, I knew that there was nothing to worry about. In fact, school camp is a great opportunity for kids to develop independence and resilience. But the process of letting go was more emotionally painful and difficult than I had expected.
When the bus pulled up at school after camp, I was glad I was wearing sunglasses to hide the ridiculous tears flooding my eyes. Why was I crying? I don’t really know. Relief, happiness, a glimpse of the future where I will no longer be needed?
When my daughter stepped off bus and greeted me with a simple "hi mum" as if it were just like every other day, I secretly cried even more.
This was not the greeting of a girl who had spent every second minute for the last three days thinking about me as I had thought about her.
She was happy, secure and self-sufficient. She was everything I wanted her to be, everything I had worked so hard as a parent to achieve. And it felt like a knife to my heart.
I spent three days worried that she would miss me, that she would need me. It turned out that she’d been having so much fun, she barely had time to think about me.
And despite my tears, I knew this was the best outcome. I just hope that this whole letting go thing gets easier with practice.