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!