We hadn’t even started packing the bags yet, and there was already such a distinct difference in my approach to summer camp last year versus this year.
Last year, our oldest finally reached the age to enter summer camp. We eagerly anticipated it and discussed it for months (maybe years)! When the time finally came to pack the bags, I went all out. I organized daily outfits into gallon-sized Ziplock bags, wrote sentimental notes in Sharpie on the outside of each bag, arranged extra outfits, and even bought brand new, travel-size shampoo and soap.
Not this year. This year, when his brother was finally old enough to go, we still talked about it with great excitement. But this year when we packed the two of them, I found it was much easier for us to throw the shorts over here, the shirts over there, some underwear in an accessible place, and at least mention the shampoo/body wash combo that they both borrowed from their dad. However, packing the bags wouldn’t be the only distinction.
Last year I was terrified of sending my oldest away. While I knew that I went to camp at the same age, this didn’t make me feel more reassured at my decision as much as it made me question my parents’! What on *earth* was my mother thinking, sending me away like that?! And she didn’t even have a digital dropbox of photos to obsess over each night to ensure I was ok. I was over here scouring the backgrounds of pictures, certain that it was my kid’s elbow in the corner. Did that body language denote that he was happy? Comfortable? Making a core memory? I NEED TO KNOW!
This year taught me that, actually, I don’t need to know every detail of their every second away. Don’t get me wrong: I still checked the website! Still, I had more confidence in knowing that this separation was good, even necessary, particularly for my younger son.
He’s always been a home-body, and he struggles a great deal with focus and attention span. He can’t remember what I told him to do more than four paces away from where I told him to do it. I can’t escape bedtime without a hug and at least two follow-up hugs just to be safe. I certainly couldn’t and wouldn’t pack his weighted blanket for this week away from his comfort zone. I reassured myself that he would be fine. We already went through it with his older brother who now begs to stay at camp an extra week each year. Yes, my younger son would struggle more than his brother and many of his cabin-mates, certainly, but in the opinion of me and my husband, it’s a worthwhile struggle.
Camp teaches innumerable, invaluable lessons, all disguised in fun. Kids learn independence, exploration, organization, decisiveness, social behavior, teamwork, risk-taking, confidence, and even some ridiculous songs featuring toilet humor. In scouring pictures of camp activities like boating, swimming, and hiking, I was elated to see our boys choosing what to do with their free time, planning how to spend their concessions tokens, remembering to wear closed-toe shoes if they wanted to go on the hike later, preparing for the pool by grabbing their towels and goggles, interacting with strangers who would become friends over a game of soccer, and breaking out of their comfort zones performing skits and singing. Though I nervously awaited a phone call informing me how homesick our younger son was, it never came. I could see him in the pictures sticking out this new experience. Sure, there are counselors to offer help and reminders along the way, but without mom there, it’s all on them to pay attention and navigate this week of freedom.
It was comical to see what they each decided to invest their independence on, where their unique personalities could come to full fruition: our oldest spent as much waking time as he could playing soccer, shirtless. His brother painted, ate snacks, and was free to meander to his heart’s content. Without my reminding them, they were wearing actual outfits that they picked out! They had socks on! Their shirt use didn’t repeat!
In typical fashion, my oldest son cried when we got home, sad to have to wait another year to return to his happy place where he’s free to be himself. When we asked our younger son if he missed us, he admitted that he “missed [us] 70% and 30% had fun.”
While that was hard to hear, I was proud that he understood that the negative shouldn’t fully impede the positive opportunity. Yes, he missed us, but he was willing to try new things and have fun all on his own. He was willing to persevere and retain optimism despite some minor discomfort. He even said he wanted to go back again next year!
And that’s something we could never teach him. Only summer camp can do that.