In the past 24 hours, I have dropped off three of my kids at camp. The eldest will be a CILT (Counselor in Leadership Training--yes, for those of you who loved MEATBALLS, we taught her the song, "I am a CIT so piteous...the kids are brats, the food is hideous, etc. LOVE Bill Murray), #2 daughter is a Senior Camper, and #3 child (#1 son) is a camper. They are all at either Camp Seafarer (girls) and Camp Seagull (boys). My youngest son went to Camp Seagull last year, LOVED it, but he wanted to 'take a break' this year. However, there was a quivering lip at drop off today, so all the way home he talked about, "Next year..." ANYWAY, I digress. I dropped 75% of my children at camp today, and I felt great about it. You know why? Camp has been one of the most amazing and valuable experiences of their lives. If I had to cut every extra curricular, every single thing my kids do except one thing, I would definitely keep camp. It has had that much of an influence on their lives. I am a huge camp advocate because I have seen how good it is for them. And it also helps that Camp Seagull and Camp Seafarer are AWESOME.
Every year, they are SO excited to go and see their friends from previous years. They count down the days, the talk all year long about missing their camp friends, and then they have these darling, tearful reunions. They love, love, love their camp friends. You know why? Because they HAVE to. They learn how to work it out because they live together in a cabin with a dozen strangers and they learn to work it out. They practice and master compassion and empathy and tolerance. They become a kind of a family. (and yes, those amazing 'family skills' come home with them) They become self-sufficient. They solve their own problems, day in and day out, or suffer the consequences. They set goals, and rely on themselves, and only themselves, to achieve these goals. They keep their area neat and clean. They keep up with their stuff. They manage their time. They write wonderful letters home. (Hilarious, but wonderful) They try new things. They spread their wings in ways you'd never have guessed. (Archery, really? And you're a MASTER PADDLER? What is that, anyway?) They make hard choices. (I had to give up my free time for a week to take the motorboating license class, but now I can take a boat out whenever I want!) And they see the rewards of these hard choices. They screw up. (not enough sunscreen, ouch, or putting crocs too close to shore and they wash away with the tide...) And they learn lessons. They are supervised like crazy, but by young, cool teen-agers who are uber-responsible but super-cool. And yet they have lots of freedom but within very specific parameters. The girls are allowed to shave their legs once a week (I LOVE THIS) for the dance. Otherwise, primping isn't part of their routine. They settle into themselves. They have no cell phones, computers, internet, television...They find themselves without all the noise of technology. They come into their own. They find their place in the tribe. My son comes home with nearly all clean shirts because the boys hardly wear shirts the whole time. They are wild, prowling creatures who explore in swimsuits from dawn til dusk. The first time my son went to camp, he cried on the way home when his sisters bugged him. "You just don't understand," he sniffed, "how awesome life is with only boys." And I can't begin to imagine. I only know the results.
Yes, summer camp is expensive. It takes a chunk out of our family time in the summer. I miss them like crazy. Packing for it is a beast. (not to mention the laundry when they get home!) But it is soooo worth it. They come home more confident, mature, and responsible versions of themselves. They come home thankful, loving and appreciative of home. EVERY YEAR. So after a few years, they have become truly extraordinary young people. Despite the shortcomings of their parents.
So why? Why is camp so incredible? Why is camp so good for kids? What is it that makes it so special? Because try as I might, I earnestly believe that I cannot replicate camp results myself. (I've tried, dear readers) I think the unplugging is part of it. Young people are SO plugged in, all the time, and so unaccustomed to the quiet. And IMPORTANT things happen in the quiet. So that's part of it, but the other part both delights and disturbs me. I even think this part is the most important of all. Are you ready for it? It will shock some of you...
Camp is great for kids. It gives them a confidence beyond compare. They become comfortable in their skin. They gain a new inner strength...all because...there are NO PARENTS. It is sad but true. There was a time in history when kids woke up on a summer morning, walked out the front door, and no one saw them again until bedtime. Parents didn't even think to worry. Kids knew their parameters, they had a whole world to explore and experience, and it was safe and waiting. The world is a bit different now, and even more importantly, parents are different now. We are hovering, quivering, micromanagers. Society has made us that way. Yes, there are all degrees of helicopter parents, but compared to 50 years ago, we are all helicopters. Though I am conscious of it and try not to be, I know that my very presence gives my children a constant safety-net. That's not all bad, but it's not all good, either. Kids need room to spread their wings and ultimately, to fly.
So thank God for camp. I am especially grateful for Camp Seafarer and Camp Seagull. And the opportunity to give my children this growth experience. And believe it or not, every year I grow a little, too. Moms also need room to spread their wings.
My Mission Statement
I write to serve, to unite, to educate. I write to share literature and flesh out ideas that may be of interest to others. I write to document an emotion, experience, or a blip in time. My mission is to write in such a way that the reader is reminded that we can find humor in all situations. It's one of the great blessings of life.