I’ve spent hours on the phone with parents touting the value of camp in a child’s life- how they gain confidence, independence, lasting friendships, et cetera et cetera. I wholeheartedly believe every word I’m saying. When they express doubt about whether their child is too young or not ready, if I’m being completely honest here, I sometimes think to myself,’ these parents are being too over protective and it’s ok to let them go and just be.’ It’s good for them.
… And then it was my turn. Last summer my older son was going away to camp for the first time.
Now I have to put my money where my mouth is. I’m The Camp Lady. The word ‘camp’ is in the name of my job! I can’t exactly go around telling people that I am nervous about sending him and that I lay in my bed at 3 am staring at the ceiling feeling like I could throw up just thinking about him leaving. I’m not even one of those moms- you know the ones I mean- squishy, mushy, over the top in love with my kid no matter what ridiculous thing he does. And trust me, with this one, there are things. Of course I love him more than anything but I was happy to ship him off for 7 weeks where I know he is safe, constantly busy and someone else is dealing with him.
This is MY KID. MINE. What if he needs me? What if he has to go to the bathroom and forgets to stop what he’s doing and go? (It happens. Even at age 8). What if it thunders at night and he’s scared? What if he doesn’t know where I put his pre-addressed, pre-return- labeled stationary? What if, what if, what if.
I spent months getting ready. (More on that later). The day came, we went to the bus stop. We were all smiles. He got on and it pulled away. It was early in the morning so my husband, my younger son and I went to get some breakfast. I sat and cried in my pancakes.
Later that afternoon we got the call that the bus had arrived safely and then another one at night letting us know that Evan was doing great. I had my doubts. What are they going to say? That he’s being quiet and unsure of himself and overwhelmed with all of the new kids and surroundings? (All completely normal behavior for the first days by the way). We checked the website to see pictures, we did the whole refresh refresh thing. We sat on the couch watching TV amazed by the quiet. We knew what each other was thinking ALL THE TIME- I wonder what Evan is doing right now? The nights were the hardest. Knowing he was sleeping somewhere strange and new, not his own bed. It seemed like FOREVER although in reality it was two days.
It wasn’t until I got this picture from one of the camp directors that I knew that he was doing great for real:
Because how can you not have fun when you’re an 8 year old boy with underwear on your head?
So, yes, it’s hard when they first leave but it gets WAY better. Here are a few tips to make it easier:
1. BE CONFIDENT IN YOUR DECISION
You did the research, visited the camps, hopefully used The Camp Lady to help. It’s normal to be nervous the first time your child goes away, but you should not be nervous about the actual camp itself. I have toured hundreds of camps. Each one is more beautiful and impressive than the next. But I only got ‘that feeling’ at one camp and that is where my son goes. It’s not about who has the highest zip line or the best dance studio. It’s like shopping for a wedding dress; when you put the right one on it just fits and you know it.
2. BE PREPARED: SHOP LIKE IT’S YOUR JOB
Around February, your camp will send you their packing list. It’s long and overwhelming. It’s the Olympics of shopping. You can do it. It’s important to get everything and then some. The last thing you want is your child not having something they need. The best you can do for your peace of mind is knowing that you sent them with everything beforehand. Plus, it’s fun. I met my BFF from high school at a camp store in the town where we grew up. The salespeople followed us around with a checklist like we were registering for our wedding. We literally spent more than 5 minutes debating over whether to get a regular fan or a light up fan. (Light up). And then laughed so hard about it afterwards at lunch. Even after all of this hard work on your part, you will still see pictures of your kid wearing someone else’s socks all summer. Cooler ones that you didn’t know about. And you’ll think, how did I miss that? You’ll get them next year…
3. IT MIGHT NOT GO PERFECTLY
Even months before camp starts, your child might be nervous. They might leak out little gems at bedtime like “I was thinking about staying home this summer” that make you want to call and get your deposit back. Remember, your kids are looking to you to see how to feel and react. Be aware of what you are conveying to them and be truthful- they might be homesick- but mostly try to be encouraging and share positive messages.
Once camp starts, don’t be disappointed if you get a bad letter, or if your first phone call doesn’t go as great as you had imagined. Kids get homesick in the beginning. Some don’t get over it until the end of the summer. Some won’t even tell you until they get home that they cried the first few nights. It’s all normal and you should expect it. No need to get in the car and drive up to camp if you get some less than stellar news. One of my clients waited weeks for a letter from their son. Weeks! He was just too busy having fun to write. Of course, the camp eventually made him and they had to email a pdf of the letter because the parents needed to see something immediately and who could blame them? Then they got to visiting day and found all of THEIR letters unopened! Were they upset? Yes. But their son LOVES camp and now it’s a story they laugh about.
4. ENJOY YOUR TIME- IT GOES QUICK
Once I saw lots of smiling pictures and got a few good letters, I have to admit………… IT WAS AWESOME!!!! Having only one kid home? The easy one? Can this be real? If you have siblings still at home, use the opportunity to do fun things with them. They’ve never had the chance to live at home without their older brother or sister so although they miss the companionship, you will not miss the fighting! It’s so nice to have that special time with just them. If you have an only child, live it up! You and your hubby are alone again for the first time in 8 or 9 years. You don’t have to swing from the chandeliers, but you can go to a movie on a Sunday afternoon, take a last minute road trip, spend 7 weeks without watching a single kid show on TV, you get the point. It’s ok to enjoy your summer because, let me tell you, it will be over before you know it. Your son or daughter will be home saying they’re bored within 48 hours.
But don’t worry, it’s only 315 days until camp starts again.