My Mom Made Me Go To Camp (Thanks Mom!)
…and it was one of the best things that ever happened!
When I was a kid there was a disagreement in my house about whether my brother and I would go to camp. In this case I’m talking about sleep-away camp. We were already attending a local day camp and sports camps too.
My mom wanted me to go to camp and my dad…not so much. The reasons why were obvious for each of them. My mom had gone to camp and my dad hadn’t. She “got it” and he had never had the chance.
One of the things I thank my parents for now, and it took me well into adulthood to understand (and being a dad helps too), is that they made these types of decisions for me. When they knew something was good for me, even if I didn’t, they would decide for me…make me do things. Every parent does this with small things; eating vegetables, going to bed early, brushing teeth, doing homework. I appreciated that my parents did this with larger things too; auditioning for the city chorus (embarrassing), trying out for the better soccer league or baseball all-star team (nerve-wracking), and going to camp (terrifying).
Thank you mom for making me go to camp and for convincing dad too.
My mother’s story:
Debby grew up in a small house in a small town. The second oldest of five and often helping mom and doing things to organize her younger siblings. Debby was a good student, a musician and singer, and all around good egg. She took a lot on her little shoulders and still does. Debby worked hard and cared a lot.
She was Girl Scout and one summer, during middle school, she got the opportunity to go to Girl Scout camp and loved it. Debby returned every summer through middle and high school. Always going late in the summer, August session, for two weeks and working the earlier part of the summer at a local day camp.
The summer outside of sleep-away camp was boring. Debby liked school and the open-endedness of summer, the lack of structure and challenge, was boring. Camp was interesting and challenging.
Debby went to camp for two weeks at a time. Her older sister, Penny, went too. The deal in the family was that her parents would pay for one-half of the tuition and Debby had to raise the money for the other half. So she did.
Debby had a paper route in town, seven days a week, delivering two daily papers and two Sunday papers. She also babysat and put her money away. Debby would save her money throughout the year to go to camp. For her it was an oasis. Respite. A break from a big family in a small house. From a set of responsibilities that sat heavy on the shoulders of a young girl.
At camp Debby grew, laughed, matured, and had a space and experience all her own. Going to camp allowed her to come home energized and happy. Ready to take on school and family responsibilities; navigate life in her small town until next summer.
Debby loved camp so much that when we were talking about her experience recently she told me two things; first, that camping was in her blood, and second, that she wanted to become a professional girl scout.
Back to my story:
My mom knew what type of growth experience camp was and what kind of opportunities it presented for me. My dad on the other hand never went to overnight camp. As a matter of fact I’m not even sure he went to day camp. He grew up mostly in a farmhouse on the other side of town from my mom. The middle boy of three the neighbors would come over and they’d play outside during the summer or his dad would get them to do jobs around the house. My favorite is his account of insulating the house one year with urea formaldehyde – a spray type foam that is a known carcinogen.
My dad’s response to the idea of camp was classic. He said, as our family fable goes, “I never went to camp and look at me; I turned out ok.” My mother of course gave him a look, rolled her eyes, and continued with her preparations for my summer.
I Didn’t Want To Go
I was twelve and the truth is I didn’t want to go to camp. I played sports and in my proud moments even consider myself to have been something of an athlete. My dreams went far beyond my ability though and with grand visions of professional league endings I didn’t want to miss summer baseball or soccer.
That may have just been one excuse though. As I have examined it over the years and come to understand my boyhood self I was simply scared. Scared about this new experience away from my parents and very worried that I wouldn’t make friends.
I wasn’t great at making friends to begin with and assumed that the boys already there would be experts who’d been at camp for years…perhaps born in the woods nearby or something.
The parental negotiation was settled and it was determined definitively that I was to attend sleepaway camp. My rebellion at this point was to declare that I would choose the camp and my mother wasn’t to be involved. Ha; showed her!
Turns out I chose a very rustic experience, a boys’ camp, which was in many ways like the Girl Scout camp she had gone to.
I Cried in the Car
I am not ashamed to admit it; I cried in the car on the way to camp. Even after all our preparations I was still very scared of the unknown on the ride up. The camp was (and still is) located in Vermont over three hours’ drive from where we lived outside of Boston. So I had plenty of time to imagine all sorts of embarrassing situations, horrible living conditions, and unwelcoming bunkmates. None of it happened but it all seemed so real in my head, as if it already had.
I cried. I cried harder as we got closer. I asked not to go. I promised to do all the dishes, clean the house, and not fight with my brother. Heck I promised to do anything they wanted if we could just turn around and go home.
I Was OK
Actually I was better than OK. The way I remember it is that within 30 minutes I was good to go and encouraging my parents to leave probably because I thought they were embarrassing me.
I made friends. I wasn’t the only new kid. My counselors were nice. The lake was awesome. I got to shoot arrows.
I loved it.
I even liked the singing. In the dining hall we sang camp songs and other songs too; “The Monkey and the Engineer,” and, “Yellow Submarine.” I remember being handed a sheet of paper with the words. Everyone belted those two out.
I Loved It
I liked camp so much I came to love it. I chose…myself, me, and nobody else…to go back the following summer. I also chose to write letters (generational thing) to my friends in the off-season (Eric V I still have a couple pieces of correspondence from the 1980’s kicking around here somewhere).
Going to camp helped me to be braver about all things. Trying out and trying hard especially. I studied abroad in high school and college too and camp helped that. I succeeded at college without the stereotypical exercises of being away from home for the first time…because it wasn’t my first time away from home.