Overnight Summer Camp – Our First Experience

512aI said I wouldn’t do it, and then I went and did it. I sent my barely 9 year old boy to overnight summer camp.  For two weeks.

I really get that for many people, this is just not a big deal. I’m not any of them though, and it was a huge deal for me. Why? Let me explain.

1.  I come from good immigrant stock (Asia, if you’re curious) which means, if you’re first generation, there is positively, absolutely no camp of any kind.  Firstly, there’s nowhere near any money for this – camp is expensive, and overnight camp tops the summit of extracurricular disposable income. Secondly, sending your kids off to be cared for overnight by strangers is a foreign and kind of unseemly idea. My older sister was never allowed to attend sleepover parties away from home. I was permitted such luxuries only because I’m 8 years younger, and my mother was both more acclimatized and worn down when it was my turn to ask.

2.  I am taking a leave of absence to spend time with my children, not to send them away.  Also: not working means not bringing in any income to pay for overnight camp. It’s like not having any cake, and not eating it.

3.  My son is still really young, just 9 years old. I was open to being persuaded that overnight camp could happen to us. My husband started overnight camp when he was 7, and recognizes it as possibly the strongest and most positive force in his youth. Okay, okay. Maybe later.

Then, slowly, over the course of the last school year, I found myself turning. And I can tell you intellectually what got me to that point: a sense during the school year that my son needed something else, something more; a great friend attending the camp for the first time too; moving endorsements of the camp from parents; recognizing opportunities for mentorship that my husband and I couldn’t otherwise provide on our own.

Still, I was partly baffled to find myself in a car with my boy a few weeks ago, complete with sleeping bag and duffle bag stuffed with outdoorsy things labelled with his name.  Driving him to God knows where, to leave him with God knows who, to do God knows what.

493 496Then we arrived. A teenaged boy greeted us at the entrance and directed us to the right cabin, where the cabin counsellor met us with a smile. The camp directors appeared out of nowhere to give my son a warm welcome and call him by name (they didn’t know mine, delighting me with their priorities). The campers were energetic, but focused; the camp rustic, but well organized. Smooth sailing all around.

I was wide-eyed and wanted to see more, maybe attend the tour for the campers? Um, no. My son was okay (sort of) with me helping him get settled in the cabin because he knew other parents did this, but mostly while unpacking he pretended I wasn’t there or that he didn’t know me. The tanned cabin counsellor (16 years old? 18?) smiled again and said, “He’s just excited”.

Which was a kind thing to say but not true. My son knew his adventure had started, and that it did not include me.  I reluctantly took his cues and walked out of the cabin after a crummy, sideways non-hug. I wandered around the camp a little bit to address my curiosity. I left feeling satisfied and calm. My son would be fine here, I thought. He wanted to be there, and the camp knew what it was doing.

I didn’t even miss him at first. Then, maybe on day four, I was driving alone in the car and gripped the wheel. “This is what it’s going to be like when he goes to university,” I seethed. I was not worried for his well-being, or even that he was homesick. I was not worried about anything. It just finally registered that he was gone.  I recovered from this episode, but still my body kept wondering where he was, and it mattered not that my mind knew.

I checked the mail everyday. One day, this arrived:

photo (8)

It was my only contact with him for two weeks. I was satiated completely.

On the day of his return, he got off the bus looking dirty and tired and older.  He had an amazing time. Also he was happy to be home. Filled with stories, he would soon give me a better sense of the camp than any tour could do.

We’ve got one more week to adjust to the reality of returning to school which, let’s face it, is a whole other kettle of complicated fish. But when we do finally arrive at the schoolyard, it will be with the learning experience of this summer under both our belts, and it’s about as equipped as we can be. Let the new year begin.

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10 Things I Discovered at Overnight Camp

201My kids and I went to camp this summer for the first time.  I’m in no particular hurry to get my kids to overnight camp (my oldest is 7), but when we were invited by my oldest son’s classmate and his mother, I was tempted.

At 5 days and 4 nights, with an adult-child ratio of about 1:3, our camp is designed for 6 to 9 year olds to have a gentle entry to overnight camp.  And it does this for some of their parents too, because it turns out that we can volunteer as counsellors.  By doing just this, I also got to bring along my second son, who just turned 5.  

I didn’t go to camp as a girl, and was excited (and a little nervous) by the idea that I would be experiencing and learning about it alongside my boys.  Without further ado, here are the top 10 Things I Discovered at Overnight Camp:

1.  The dining hall is not for dining.  

I have to be honest:  I never adjusted to the dining hall experience.  The food was unspeakable, truly.  But beyond the reconstituted food powders was the noise.  Oh my lordie, the noise.  I could possibly bear the incessant singing if it weren’t followed with rounds of screaming.  Screaming, my friends, at the top of one’s lungs.  We were the youngest unit, sitting next to the 13-15 year olds.  I’ll pause a moment for you to imagine.  Our little people basically dropped their forks whenever the hollering sounded, which was a lot.  It was all but impossible to eat.

2.  Bring Metamusil.

Related to the point 1, but deserving its own line.

3.  Being a counsellor is serious work.

I thought that being an inexperienced volunteer counsellor would mean a couple of hours in the craft room, maybe a morning in the kitchen.   Um, no.  A counsellor is with her unit 24/7 for five days.  I was… surprised.

4.  Fake it ’til you make it.

The camp we attended struck me as an extroverted dream.  You are surrounded by lots of people who want to get to know you, have instantaneous friends, and are never alone.  You sing and yell and be merry.  This version of heaven is not mine.  One of my favourite times at camp was stealing away from the group because my 5 year old needed a nap, and I got to read for an hour in a quiet tent while he slept.  But the rest of the time, even when I would have preferred to be alone, I pretended that I didn’t.  I sang and danced and air pumped with the best of them, and I had a good time.

5.  Girls are lovely.

Camp rules mean that female counsellors sleep in the girls’ tents and male counsellors sleep in the boys’ tents.  My tent housed four 7 to 9 year old girls.  I have three sons, and don’t spend much time with girls, and discovered from my little tent-mates that they are lovely.  They’re pretty and quiet(er) and bounce around less.  They talk easily and their colourful bathing suits have two pieces.  One of them asked me to braid her hair and told her about her family life while I did it.  I miss them a little.

6.  Being at camp is hard.

Each of the four girls in my tent ran amok and laughed and cheered during the day; each was homesick at night.  Two slept with their flashlights on through the night; two wept; one tried not to and had an earache at midnight instead.

7.  Leaving camp is hard.

My 7 year old wouldn’t join the receiving line for saying goodbye at camp.  When we got home, his Lego structure broke and hit his toe, the full weight of leaving camp fell and he said that “all the fun is gone, there’s no fun left.”  I held him through that and the next morning until we re-adjusted to being home. Kids feel post-party just like adults do.

8.  Sleep is for wimps.

There are a number of factors working against sleep at camp.

a).  The children, both those in your own tent and those in the neighbouring tents.  They will talk, get homesick, want (not need) to pee (in the toilets, which are like a mile away), and cough.

b)  The sounds of the night.  Anyone who waxes on about quiet country nights is forgetting the bullfrogs, the loons (so, so beautiful), and the animals (coyote?) who stalk and eat at night.

c)  Your own self.  On the one night that the girls in my tent actually slept, I had a nightmare that they needed something and sprung up in bed asking, “Are you okay?  What do you need?”  My co-counsellor could have done without this.

9.  A good frog is worth 100 iPads. 

Forever and ever, amen.

10.  It’s good to be kind to kids.

The children’s well-being and happiness was the number one priority at camp, which was essentially a 5 day immersion on kindness to kids.  Most of us could benefit from this once in awhile and be reminded not to let the frustrations of the day reign – I know I could.  I think I brought home from camp a little more patience and a little more cheer, and for this alone it was more than worth it.

When I don’t love you anymore . . .

J:  Mommy, where are my cousins?

BA: They’re away at sleepover camp.

J:  They sleep there?

BA: Yes.  Do you want to go to sleepover camp sometime?

J:  No.  I love you too much to sleep over.

My heart swells.  I live for these unabashed declarations of love.

. . . a few minutes later . . .

J: Mommy?

BA:  Yes.

J:  One day when I don’t love you anymore I’ll go to sleepover camp.

Ughft (the sound the proverbial knife in my gut makes).