The Power of Sleepaway Camp
This morning is the first morning of my “vacation”. All three of my boys are at sleepaway camp for the first time ever. Usually we always have at least one of my kids home, but this year the stars aligned and all three are away for 6 days at the same time.
When my friends asked if I was excited for the quiet time, I would say that it will be nice to have a break from all of the carpooling and I will be able to get some stuff done around the house that I have been putting off, but I was a little nervous. I don’t really like when ONE of my kids is gone… it just feels weird in my house – something seems off. “You’ll get used to it real fast” was most peoples response back.
Well, I am sitting at my kitchen table, having my coffee, like I do every other morning. Adam left to work out and then go to work. We had a really nice dinner last night with friends and, I must admit, it was nice not to rush home and have to pay a sitter…. but here I am having my coffee and I am finding myself kinda weepy.
My kids make messes, fight, talk back – like I’m sure so many of yours do…. but they are mine, I live for them, I love their mess, their noise and their cuddles and I already miss them terribly. Every night they are gone I scour the camp website for pictures – REFRESH REFRESH (if you haven’t seen the You Tube Video about summer camp- you MUST – here is the link). I seriously examine every picture – I have been known to get excited about seeing the back of my sons head AND analyze from the back of his head if he looks happy or not!
Friends who don’t have kids who go to sleepaway camp cannot understand HOW I can send my kids away for two to five weeks (my youngest is going for two weeks, my middle for three and a half and my oldest for five). Well, despite my missing-ness and stalker-like behavior – I know that this is the BEST thing I could ever do for them. This is an incredible gift that they may not realize they have been given until they are much older.
As a kid, it took me a long time to find the right camp for me. I didn’t have the best experience my first few years at camp, I tried a few different camps and at one I was horribly bullied (I still get heart palpitations when I hear some of the girls names who I was bunked with) – I remember writing a letter to my parents asking them to come get me and circled the “tear drop” that wetted the camp stationary. BUT, my parents encouraged me to try somewhere else the next year, which I did, and I found my camp home! I attended this camp until I was 21 as a counselor. I still speak to my friends from this camp and this camp helped me to become the strong, independent woman that I am today – these were some of the best years of my life! (thanks so much Mom & Dad!)
Let me tell you another story, the story of one of my kids who started going to camp when he was going into 4th grade for 10 days. He got off the bus and said he had a good time, he HATED the overnight camping trips and he cried every night because he was homesick. BUT, he wanted to go back again the next year…. so he did…. and he still hated the overnight camping trips and he cried most nights because he was homesick. BUT, he wanted to go back… and he did. I called the camp director and asked him can he not go on the overnight camping trips? The camp director (who my son totally adores) explained to me that they are not optional… I explained to him that for some kids overnights may just not be their “thing” and I didn’t want this to affect his decision about coming back to camp. He asked me to give him the opportunity to show him how amazing the overnights could be and that camp is the opportunity to try things out of your box and out of your comfort zone and perhaps one day camping will be his “thing” – I laughed and said okay, but in my head I was thinking “man, you don’t know my son.” Well, he went back to camp and he still got homesick some nights, but not as many, he went on the overnights and still didn’t love them. He continued to go back to camp, even though his friends didn’t go back, wasn’t homesick and I got a letter saying that he went on his overnight and it was “amazing” – Score “1” for our camp director.
Flash forward to the present – my “non-overnighter” decided to go with camp on a five week Western Trip – this is where 24 kids and 6 staff drive in a bus from Michigan to California and back – they visit and stay in all of the National Parks along the way. They sleep in tents, hike for miles a day, cook their own food and see incredible sites! I was so excited he decided to go on this amazing trip! He didn’t sign up with any friends, just on his own. The night before he left, I asked him if he was excited, nervous, etc? He was both. When I asked what he was nervous about – he told me hiking and sleeping in a tent. Well, that is the entire trip! Hiking and camping! Of course, now my mom alarms went up and I was very nervous for him.
So, off my son went. He was very excited the morning of the trip. Knew a handful of the kids. The counselors seemed great. He couldn’t bring a phone, any electronics or even a watch (which totally stressed him out, because, like me, he is a slave to time), but he could call home 2 times! The first call we got was 9 days into the trip – we sat by the phone and waited for his call (I kept checking to make sure the phone was actually working, more than once). He called and he sounded AMAZING!! We got our second, and last call, last night and he couldn’t have sounded better! The trip is incredible, he is seeing amazing things, made great new friends and has been sleeping under the stars! My son is a camper. Just talking to him, I could hear in his voice, that he has changed… he has grown up in the last few weeks. I am so incredibly in awe of my son and his courage to step out of his box and am comforted to know that he can not only adapt to situations that may make him nervous or uncomfortable… but he can OWN them!! Camp made me a strong, independent person who wasn’t afraid to try new things (with or without my friends) and camp has done the same thing for him.
I couldn’t be any prouder of my kids. It is a very scary thing to leave home and go to camp… but it is an incredible gift. Everyone needs a break once in a while. Brothers need a break from their brothers. Kids need a break from the rules and electronics. Parents need a break from the driving and hectic schedule of the school year. Breaks are good sometimes. The best part of the break, though, for me… is when the break is over.
I cannot wait to get my arms around my precious boys and hear all about the things they loved (and didn’t love, but someday will) about camp!
Oh my goodness….this story had made me laugh and cry and cry while laughing! I can completely relate…right down to the part where you can determine whether your child is happy or not from a photo of the back of his head! Haha 🙂 i love my kiddos too and love seeing them grow and try new things…push themselves come out of their comfort zones…but my favorite part is when they are back with me and laughing, screaming, fighting, running thru the house (when they shouldn’t), being snuggle bugs…
Thank you for sharing your story, it touched my heart 🙂
Thanks for this post. I had no doubt that my daughter would love her first experience, and she did, but I love the way you capture how so many of us feel (checking the phone to make sure it’s working: classic). I went to my daughter’s “moms’ weekend” and was teary the whole time to see how this unique place let’s them experiment with being someone different. It is so bittersweet because as important as it is for them, it’s also undeniably the first of the many leavings from home. Even while we may believe it’s the best thing for them, that doesn’t mean it’s not also hard for us!
Thanks SO much, Jenny!!!