Dear Fellow Camper Parent,
I want to reassure you that you are in good company. I was also, at one point, a first-time camp mom sending my then 9-year-old to overnight camp for the first time. And I survived to tell about it. So will you.
There are, of course, a few types of parents:
Parent #1: You are a bundle of nerves sending your children away.
Will they like it? Will they make friends? Will they remember to change their underwear? I have a picky eater—they will never eat what you put in front of them. They are afraid of the lake/pool and sleep with a snuggie/blankie/lovey. If I don’t lay out their clothes for them, I’m confident they will wear the same shirt for the next three-and-a-half weeks. Have they showered and cleaned their ears? Brushed their teeth?
They are not ready.
I am not ready.
I feel fairly confident in telling you that no child has gone three-and-a-half weeks without eating, camp food options have improved a lot since we were campers and if they still choose to live on bread and cereal the whole time, it’s really OK. They will get into that lake or pool without being forced, and it’s fine to bring the snuggie/blankie/lovey.
They will change their underwear. Eventually.
Parent #2 is the one doing the happy dance as the child gets out of sight, with just a few tears prior.
They cried as they said goodbye. It is hard letting your little one out of your capable hands, but then….
Then reality sets in. You have a child away for three-and-a-half weeks who will be cared for by other capable hands and who is about to have a really amazing time at sleep-away camp. And you are going to have a really amazing time while your child is away at sleep-away camp.
Hip, hip, hooray for sleep-away camp as you blare the radio on your hour-plus ride back to your quiet home.
You will eagerly await the mail, the call home from the head counselor and online photos. However, you will be amazed how quickly the time flies. You will feel the house is eerily quiet (because, well, because it is) and you will be sad sometimes, missing your little camper. But the other times, when you realize you don’t need a babysitter to go see a movie with your spouse, you will be reminded of the happy dance you did on the trip home.
Parent #3: That’s me. A slight combination (with slightly more Parent #2 in the mix).
I’m an alumna of said camp, which means it runs through my veins. I lived and breathed my home away from home for 12 summers and was jumping up and down when my son said he was ready to attend.
I am a combination because the other son wants nothing to do with overnight camp, and this too is OK.
I envy your quiet house at times, but I have come to terms over the years with the knowledge that overnight camp is not for every kid.
That being said, it was a fit for my now 12-year-old, and to say he has matured and grown in more ways than I can describe is an understatement. He has perfected his front crawl stroke and has actually come to enjoy Friday night Shabbat services.
He has acted in plays and learned about videography, photography, gaga and how to paddle a canoe.
He returned home more independent after laughing with his summer brothers, having learned how to clean up after himself and having explored foods other than pizza and chicken nuggets. He gained self-confidence and a boatload of friends. I’m afraid there probably were days early on that he may have forgotten to change his underwear, and I’m pretty sure a Q-tip never touches his ear during the seven weeks he attends, but it’s all good.
It’s more than good.
Because my son loves the place that I used to love (and still love). Because at the age of almost 50 (gulp), I am still friends with my camp friends.
Because camp friends are indescribable. They are your person. They are there for you in all ways, shapes and forms, in ways that differ from your home friends. They are where you can let yourself be you, because they know the real you. Because they spend seven weeks with you and know you better than your home peeps. And because you share special bonds and inside jokes and color wars and trip days and tears.
Lots of tears.
Relax, first-time parent. I’m not talking about those tears.
I mean sad-to-leave-camp tears.
Tears that as you pull up to camp on pick-up day you will see campers and counselors walking around with solemn faces, arm-in-arm, hugging and sometimes sobbing.
I kid you not. Sobbing.
They do not want to leave their home away from home.
They live #10for2 (or in adult speak, they live the other 10 months of the year looking forward to the two months at camp).
So, if you’re on the fence about sending your child to camp, but your child wants to go (this is imperative, your child really should want to go), I just want to assure you that you will be OK.
Your child will be better than OK.