I only recall one weekend of sleep away camp with the Girl Scouts from my childhood. I’ve got very fuzzy memories of eating with tin utensils, a canvas tent on a platform, and the fireside talent show that involved my quartet performing Kenny Rogers’ Coward Of The County. Yep.
Which meant I was in for a steep learning curve when T-man and Bear went to sleep away camp for the first time in July. I didn’t have a lot of personal experience from the child’s perspective and precisely zero from the parent’s, yet somehow we muddled through.
Here are a few of the things I learned that week.
** I have a truer understanding of my own parents than I ever did. I’m certain I thought of T-man and Bear more often than they thought of me, and I was okay with that. It did make me think about all those Sundays I didn’t call my parents, though. How hard would it have been to pick up a phone? Sheesh.
** It was a pretty strange personal transition. The first two days were hard – not crying in my coffee hard, but I’d think of the kids and then check the camp schedule to see what they were doing around that time. Things got easier…I’d think about T-man and Bear but not quite as many times in a day, and it wasn’t usually followed by an urge to know what they were doing that moment. And then I caught myself realizing something earth shattering: eventually I’d have this life. The thought left me breathless, stunned, a little guilty, and excited. The very idea of having so much Possibility descend upon me was equal parts bewildering and freeing.
** In our five days and six nights without tweens, there was a distinct lack of screechiness, claws bared, and hair trigger tempers rampaging through the house.
** Our dogs were weird, particularly Gracie. Our typically bouncy, goofy, rambunctious golden was sluggish, mopey, and put herself to bed on several occasions. The first few days they actually seemed to look for the children; eventually the dogs resigned themselves to being without their little pals.
** I won’t lie, I was looking forward to sleep away camp. Getting to stay home while my kids go elsewhere for sun and fun? Sounded like a win/win to me. But it turned out that leaving them behind for Sunday drop off was much harder than I expected it to be. I talk a great game – you’ll get to do so many fun things, camp will make you feel so much more independent, we wouldn’t leave you somewhere if we weren’t convinced that you’re in good hands – but when push came to shove there was a chink in the armor. We were driving away, leaving my babies in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of strangers. Not so easy after all.
** My camp was way different from their camp, my friends. In my day? We’re talking popsicle stick crafts, hiking, cooking over the campfire…the usual Girl Scout fare. But theirs? First they chose a major, an area of concentration that they’d participate in daily. Here are just some of the options: Challenge (low/high ropes courses, zipline, etc), Community Farm, Horseback Riding, Kid vs. Wild (survival skills), Hands On Herpetology, Mountain Biking, and Rock & Raft (including a multi-night rafting trip to West Virginia). The camp offered a choice of electives each day like waterfront (lake inflatables), group sports, sushi making, marshmallow catapults, and spa day (just to name a few). It was like kiddie college on steroids.
** Aside from the activities, this place is far from their mama’s camp. The cabins are air conditioned and have two full bathrooms in each one. Their nightly activities for overnight campers went way beyond s’mores and campfire songs. Pool party, Capture the Flag…shoot, one night they did a candlelight walk around the lake. The camp posted hundreds of photos online daily, and we could send e-mail to our campers that would be delivered to them each night. And the food? Don’t get me started. All their meals were served from food grown on the camp’s farm or through local partner farms, and when my kids say the food was great then the food was really great.
Sleep away camp was a success. The kids had a fabulous time, and they’re already asking to go for an extra week next summer. Even with all that, though, the look on their faces when we came for Friday’s pickup? Priceless.