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We live in New York City but my kids go to summer camp in California. They connect with their cousins and my husband and I get time together.

Alexandra Moss   

We live in New York City but my kids go to summer camp in California. They connect with their cousins and my husband and I get time together.
  • My family lives in New York City, but we send our two kids to camp in California.
  • Their friends go to camp in the Northeast, and mine take a six-hour flight for theirs.

"Your kids go to camp, where?!" is the inevitable response whenever I tell someone about our plans.

For the last two years, we've sent our 10-year-old son to sleepaway camp in California — 3,000 miles and a six-hour flight from our home in New York. This summer, our 7-year-old will be joining her brother for four weeks doing farm chores, sleeping in lean-tos, and detoxing from their devices on a rustic working ranch in the sweltering foothills of the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Most of their friends who leave for the summer go to camp in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, or Maine, like I did for six years of my own childhood. The East Coast isn't lacking for overnight camps: camp culture here is stronger than in any other part of the country. Hence their confusion.

Our kids get time with their cousins

"Well, it's where my husband went growing up in San Diego. And they go with their cousins who live out there."

"Ah. That makes more sense."

Our children are lucky to have first cousins the same ages as them — and unlucky to live a continent apart. Camp is the only opportunity they have to spend extended periods of time together, and it sustains their long-distance relationships, which most of the year look like chatting over FaceTime or playing together in Roblox instead of mountain biking, roasting s'mores, and jumping off rope swings into a frigid lake.

The younger two are true besties, and the older ones appreciate the unconditional love and acceptance they offer each other as they navigate their tween years. The girls dream of being roommates one day — exactly the kind of dividend we hope this investment will pay out long into the future.

Sending them to camp helps us reconnect

When only our son went to camp, it gave my husband and me the chance to bond with our daughter, who had never had both of us to herself before and lapped up our undivided attention. It also made it easier to leave her with her grandparents so we could escape for some kid-free travel.

Last year, we explored Vancouver and whale-watched on a remote island off the coast of British Columbia. This July, we'll be hiking hut-to-hut in the Dolomites, summitting mountain passes by day, and indulging in home-cooked Italian alpine food each night. While we love traveling with our kids, neither trip would work as a family vacation at this stage — and it's just as important we get time away without them for grown-up conversations and pursuits.

Ten years into parenting, 15 into our marriage, and 17 into our relationship, these summers have been clutch for reconnecting as people and partners, not just parents. Even a night away at a local hotel does wonders for rekindling the flame that can sputter out against the slog of full-contact parenting. Nothing saps the romance quite like the homework-dinner-bedtime routine that's every parent's second job but without the paycheck. And that's not counting the overtime spent soothing their anxieties, navigating their fears, or holding back their hair when they bring home the dreaded norovirus. An entire summer apart? What witchcraft makes that possible?

It costs a lot of money but it is invaluable

Three years in, it still feels like magic. Magic — and a big check we save up all year to be able to write. We feel privileged to provide this experience for our kids — and to travel with and without them. From where we sit, however, it's invaluable not only for reigniting our own relationship but for giving us and our children distance, perspective, and independence.

In the two millennia since a Roman poet coined the phrase "absence makes the heart grow fonder," it's typically been applied to lovers or friends forced to spend time away from each other. But it's no less true for modern parents fortunate enough to ship their kids off to summer camp or for their kids.

By the end of the school year, we're all more than ready for a month apart. And by the end of camp, we're thrilled to reunite. When we do, we bring with us what we've learned on our respective summer vacations: how to be in the world as individuals. That's something they're experiencing for the first time — and something we need to do again and again as parents to make sure we don't lose ourselves in our love for them.

Alexandra Moss is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker. She is now writing a memoir about her complicated relationship with her father and breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma. More at

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