Scenes from Sunday: summer camp

June 12th, 2012

We dropped our 11-year-old at summer camp on Sunday afternoon, the first time any of our kids have gone to sleep-away camp. It’s a totally foreign thing to me–as quintessentially American as boarding schools are English. I used to think both sounded perfectly barbaric, perpetuated by people with no time for their children, but my opinion’s been softened by years of watching my American friends’ faces light up when remembering summer days spent away at camp.

This year, it felt like it was time for my two older boys to experience camp for themselves. The sessions are organized by ages, so it happened that my middle child was in first in line for a change, with the teen attending next week. Whether the Littlest Who is ready for camp next year (or camp is ready for him) depends largely on how it goes for the fraternal vanguard.

I spent most of Saturday laundering, folding and labeling clothes and linens. Patrick and I have a betting pool as to how many pairs of underwear return unused. The camper watched all the preparations with quiet interest. Visible excitement is not really his style, but he was definitely curious, so I took that as a positive sign. He even seemed intrigued by the quaint stack of stamped, pre-addressed envelopes I sent with him. “This is how people sent messages in olden times,” I explained, as there are no phone calls allowed at camp. We have another betting pool on how many of those come back unused.

The morning of departure, I let him gorge on video games, since electronics are also forbidden. Over the sustained protests of my thirteen-year-old, I had decreed that the drive up the mountain would be Fun Family Time (which translates in teen to Abduction by My Stupid Evil Overlords), and that we would stop for lunch at the camper’s favorite roadside restaurant, the famous Feltners Whattaburger in Russellville.

I wanted to be sure he arrived at camp with a full belly. Our main worry is that he won’t eat. I tried to explain discreetly to his cabin counselor that he has a sensitive palate, but I probably should have written on his medical form that he is allergic to all foods outside the beige-brown spectrum. I fretted last night after seeing a dinner of pizza, salad and banana pudding on the camp blog. Hopefully he ate the pizza crust and the whipped dessert topping.

We aren’t allowed to send food, so yesterday I sent him a care package of fun.


“Too bad we just sold out of fart bombs,” the toy store manager told me, with a look of sincere regret.

He’s in a cabin with six other eleven-year-old boys. I’m sure they’ll improvise.

It helps that this camp is not a complete unknown. Many of our friends have grown up there, and send their own children now. I know several married couples who met there as campers or counsellors. When I mentioned on my personal Facebook page that the boys were going, the comments were unanimous in their enthusiasm.

I mean, just look at the place. This is the view that lead a Rockefeller to leave Manhattan behind, and call this state his home.

It even has the power to lift teen spirits.

Did you go to summer camp as a child or teen? I’d love to hear your fond and funny memories. Also, if you have helpful tips as an experienced parent of sleep-away campers, share!

15 Responses to “Scenes from Sunday: summer camp”

  1. Stacey says:

    I went as soon as I was allowed, after fourth grade, and fifth grade, to a congregational church camp in the Black Hills of South Dakota (8 hours from home). The setting was idyllic, and the experience was very good for this little introvert. Later, I sampled a horseback-riding Girl Scout Camp closer to home, and a music, art and drama camp back in the Black Hills, but I returned to the original church camp as a high schooler, and later as a babysitter for its annual pastors’ camp. My brother later married a woman who had been a camp friend of his in high school after they remet in another state.

    Camp isn’t always easy, mostly because it doesn’t have the comforts of home, but that is also its strength and its value. It gave me so many things and friends I never could have had/made if I had stayed all summer in our little town.

  2. Amy B. says:

    Summer camp was one of the best experiences of my life. Jack is attending his first camp this summer, and I’m very excited for him (and also a little jealous). We must continue to send our kids off each summer and perpetuate the camping institution, because without it, our corny camp song lexicon will dry up and wither. The world would be a sad place without classics like “Little Bunny Foo Foo,” “A Boy and a Girl in a Little Canoe” and “Fried Ham.”

  3. janewilk says:

    I never got to go to camp as a child, but my daughter has gone every summer since entering 3rd grade (she’s now entering 10th). She LOVES it and comes home filthy and deliriously happy. You’re doing all the right things by sending mail and care packages; we often include a couple of things (like those glow bracelets or little bouncy balls) where there’s enough for her to share with everyone in her cabin, plus two or three nice little gifts for her counselor (lip balm, journal, iTunes gift card – things like that). Other than that, I’d just say let your son take the lead in packing himself for camp next year – give him the packing list and let him make a go of choosing what to bring. Packing for a trip (whether it’s a week at camp or a month in Europe or two days in NYC) is an important life skill – one that a lot of adults haven’t mastered! (Case in point: my husband.)

    • Kyran says:

      What a terrific idea to send enough to share (and I blush that, of course, it didn’t occur to me on my own)! Will definitely file that away for next week’s camper!

  4. Such a lovely post, I think he will love it! Both my younger brother and sister went to the same YMCA summer camp for years, culminating in a canoe trip to the boundary waters. I was so jealous and am sending my daughter to the same camp next summer!

    • Kyran says:

      Maybe there needs to be a special summer camp for those of us grown ups who missed out, Martha Frances! πŸ™‚

  5. Leigh says:

    I went to church camp for a week each summer and have such great memories of it! The thing I looked forward to most was the care package my grandfather would send me full of Lorna Doone cookies. I remember how my friends always thought the food was gross, but I was the girl that would eat anything so I never went hungry at camp. πŸ™‚

  6. Patty says:

    Just dropped my 11 year old daughter at sleepaway camp on Sunday. She couldn’t wait to get there. Her care package? Giant bag of Twizzlers to share with her cabinmates and one of those Disney teen magazines that she loves so much that we make her buy with her own money when she’s at home. Sleepaway camp is a special experience. I loved it and I’m so glad she does, too!

  7. Becky Manderscheid says:

    I LOVE camp. I’m 40, and I still go every year. πŸ™‚ There’s just nothing like watching a child whose face literally lights up with the success of a hard earned “S” written in sharpie on her shoulder, indicating that she’s FINALLY passed the swim test and can FINALLY jump off the diving board or rope swing! Nothing like watching a little boy catch his first fish, like watching countless children make even more countless “artwork” out of those little colorful melty beads, watching the delight in their entire countenance as they search for crawdads in the creek, as they get in water fights in the canoes, as they roast marshmallows and dress up for formal night. It’s just an amazing experience, and I wouln’t trade it for the world!

  8. […] so much for all the helpful and reassuring input on sleep away camp for kids. Our eleven-year-old survived and thrived, and declared it “awesome.” Β Contrary to all […]

  9. I have dozens of memories of camps because both my parents had callings (the LDS church has no paid leaders, so everyone does the leadership roles on a volunteer basis) as camp leaders and still do have callings and will always have callings. Even in heaven, for all those people who swear heaven won’t be the same without camp. πŸ˜€ My mom made the church camp in the town I grew up in from nothing; she began traditions and created structure that still is carried on by other women.

    I have memories both pleasant and not so much:

    Our tent door zipper broke the first night of a week-long camp because of so much use by five girls and because it was an old tent. We safety-pinned the door together and used the zippable window as our door.

    I woke to a girl in my tent who had started her period the night before. She was used to it, but had just gotten out of her sleeping bag and was changing her clothes just as I woke up. The insides of her thighs were smeared with blood, and she looked at me as if this was an every day occurrence, but I was horrified, as I hadn’t begun to bleed yet.

    While picking up my dad from one of his many trips to Philmont Scout Ranch, we stayed overnight there as a family. I went on a date with two of his scouts that night, brothers I’d grown up with and had crushes on in the past. We went to get ice cream at the trading post. We had a great conversation in the long, long line to get ice cream, only to find that the ice cream machine broke. So we bought Skittles instead, then sat on the stoop to eat them as we talked in front of the sunset.

    The most vivid of memories was having both of them walk me back to my tent. Our conversation was as lively as ever, but one held one of my arms and the other held my other arm and we all three walked up the rocky trail in a row, in the dark, hormones a-brewing. It took me a very long time to get to sleep in my dark, cold tent.

  10. Jen says:

    Aw, I went to a one week church camp in Eastern Oklahoma called Dwight Mission (not as scary as it sounds, thank goodness) from seventh grade on. The first year I went, I was on my own and TERRIFIED. By the end of the week, it was hard to hold back tears that I had to leave. After that year, there was a large group of girls about my age at my church and since the weekly camps were broken down by age/grade, we all went the same week. This also meant that we stuck out as a fun group because there weren’t that many from any other single town. And a lot of the same kids went every year from other towns. We looked forward to that week every. single. summer. Those camps easily rank as some of my BEST childhood memories.

    At the time, I could only have articulated the specific memories and the fun and laughs and cherished moments and friends. But looking back on it, there is an independence about summer camp that I knew but didn’t necessarily consciously recognize at that time. You’re on your own – no home, no parents, no friends’ parents, just you, your suitcase and your bedding. It’s something that is uniquely your own in a way that nothing else really is at that age. Your interaction with the camp counselors and others are not guided or influenced by anyone else or any previous experience with you. It’s one of the first times you present yourself to others and a new environment completely as just you. It’s almost a pre-college or at least, post-high school, experience that I’m not sure you’d get elsewhere.

    I can’t wait for my daughter to experience that. My guess is your boys will have loved it.

  11. I’m writing a book called “Celebrating Summer Camp.” Would anyone be interested in either contributing or being interviewed? Please email me at!

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