Summer Camp Is Like Parenting

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Life Lessons From Summer Camp My six-year-old daughter started legit summer camp this year, and she freaking loves it. What’s not to love about a place where go-karts, Slip-n-Slide, a rock-climbing wall and Capture-the-Rubber-Chicken games delight on the daily? It’s far from a ringer for my own friendship pin and soggy sneakers camp days of yore, but I’m down with this souped-up millennial reincarnation. So down I may or may not have tried masking my camp envy with separation anxiety the first few days. I mean, I love her to the ol’ moon and back, yes, give me another hug, honey, but omg, look over there! You guys! THE RUBBER CHICKEN!

It all got me thinking of how badass summer camp is for a kid. I learned a heckuva lot of life lessons, and some sticky enough you even know it in your six to 11 year old mind, like, “Hey! I think this is one of those life lessons!” They’re the kind of A-has! that keep you cozy through middle school mayhem, college shenanigans and those wayward twenties. The best ones? They sit tight in your back pocket to be pulled out for today’s parenting. Such as…

You Better Kumbaya Up With These Chicks

Summer camp is often full of a few faces you may know from school and a lot of new ones making it the ultimate buffet of personalities for a still-in-her-shell kind of kid, a little timid to break free.  What got me was the Broadway-bound “Annie” wannabe. The girl unafraid to take the lead over to the boy’s side of camp “just to see” and hold my shaky hand on the way.  And of course, the private school kid whose mom packed her Thermos lunch cooler with farm-to-table though she always begged me for my Tastykakes. Lest I not forget the “famous” kids like the Bacon Brothers’ younger cousins who talked so Hollywood despite their rural PA upbringing. My eyes were so wide, but my voice not quite there yet. A lack of courage was just an appetizer for the hungry rebel-rousers ready to pull kids like me along and take summer by storm. Someone inevitably grabs a hand, incites laughter, and gets everyone comfortable. You figure out you all have the same mission: No more pencils, no more books, we’re going to have some fun, goddamn it. Then you find yourself standing there, singing a solo in front of the camp six weeks later. Go ‘head with your camp badness.

I actually still feel this initially shy camper in me at times as a parent. Imagine the first week of Kindergarten at a new school or any social scenario around my kids’ teams or activities. There’s the Overachieving Pinterest Mom, Hippy Mama Whose Kids Radiate Sunshine and Moonbeams, the Corporate Ingénue who makes balance her bitch. The (stereotypical) list goes on if I let it. That feeling of “everyone has their shit together but me” persists, but only if I let it. I’ve started to figure out how to silence that timid girl with a S’more though. Labels are dumb, and, hello, we all want the same damn thing: Happy fam? Yes, ma’am! I can wallow in silence at how I may never fit in, or I can rally and be a part of the team. Whether we’re afraid to sing in front of the whole camp or take the reins of a classroom party, Broadway-bound Betty or Pinterest Paula are really just Betty and Paula and we have each other’s backs because we care about our kids. Nobody gets left up the creek without a paddle–at camp or the P.T.A. Nobody.

Woman Up When You Make Bad Choices

I seriously don’t remember much about Kristy Silver* other than in high school she got a boob reduction which in the early 90s was a BIG deal. Oh, and way back in the 1st and 2nd grade girls cabin, I purposely tossed her wood-carved boat—meant for the annual boat races—over a bridge into the creek and watched it float away. I mean, WTF, Jenn. I was not this kind of asshole. I repeat: I was not this kind of kid! I have no idea what would possess me with such mean. Plus, she was a new friend! I had ventured outside of my few tried and true homies, and then I go and bust the girl’s ark? Was I afraid her boat would beat my own nautical creation, and I just wasn’t having it? No clue. I do know that I immediately had to run back (uh, race her back) to give my side of the story to our counselor. Again, I got nothing, other than a grandiose apology and tail inserted between my legs. I wobbled to pick-up at 3pm to cop my delinquency to my mom. It was a horrible feeling to be such a dick. The next day I gave my boat to Kelly to compete while I sat on the sidelines. It still didn’t feel good, but I knew somewhere deeply it was better for the both of us. Not right, but better. Her hurt feelings sunk in and stayed with me forever. I take that sentence with respect. R.I.P. to the S.S. Silver.

As a mom, I screw up a lot. Like a crap ton of times. I watch my kids do the same, and each and every time I tell them to apologize to innocent victims of their crimes. Obviously actions are louder than words, but words set the behavior in motion. When did it become so hard to give someone an apologetic wave after cutting them off in traffic, atoning those shouts at the kids that were a wee bit louder than necessary, or plain old letting ego overtake genuine remorse? I’m not advocating guilt dwelling. Just a legitimate I-WILL-OWN-MY-ASSNESS-AND-APOLOGIZE-WHEN-REQUIRED. The first step toward amends is some admittance. Forget this whole #sorrynotsorry movement. I can be better than that, and my kids will be too. Cheers to hope!

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  1. Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

    July 21, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    I’m glad there are folks out there that had good summer camp experiences. I used to hate it. I’m not athletic, and while I am outdoorsy, it’s the quiet, take a hike, look at the scenery, find a nice spot under a tree and enjoy a good book type of outdoorsy (aside from the fact that I love whitewater rafting and camping) and I never really bonded or felt like I belonged at summer camp. It always was a chore that was expected of me, and I was glad when it was over.

    So it’s nice to read about the positive experiences out there, because I know I am more than a little bit leery of sending my kids. I hate the idea that they might have similar experiences…but pieces like this remind me that they may also have incredible ones. I need that. Thanks.

    • Spongeworthy

      July 21, 2014 at 1:53 pm

      I think a lot of it depends on the camp. We did the YMCA summer camp a few times, and I remember really enjoying it. Swimming, some sports/games, arts and crafts, all that good stuff. The program went for most of the summer and I remember my sister and I both had fun.
      But we also did a week-long Girl Scout camp one year, and we both HATED it. Like, didn’t want to go back the next day. I just remember the counsellors were mean, they made us feel bad for not doing something as well as they thought we should (like, swimming or singing a song, stupid stuff). I got stung by a bee on my forehead when a counselor jammed my swim cap on my head after I told her I didn’t want to wear it–because there was a bee in it!! My sis and I also got head lice there :/
      So, I’d sign my kid up, but only after I checked the place out to see if the activities lined up with what he’s into.
      ETA the Y camp wasn’t overnight, just a day camp.

    • Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

      July 21, 2014 at 2:17 pm

      Yeah, I’m looking into some day camp options for next summer. We have a few through our zoo that seem crazy awesome. Figure we can work our way into it, lol.

    • Spongeworthy

      July 21, 2014 at 2:23 pm

      Our local zoo does some camp stuff too! It’s definitely something I want to check out when he gets older. And in the meantime, I kind of want to go myself.

    • Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

      July 21, 2014 at 2:24 pm

      I agree, I want to go too.

    • Andrea

      July 23, 2014 at 8:05 pm

      Not every camp is the same. You really gotta look into them and figure out if your kid with fit in with the activities, atmosphere, etc
      My kids LOVE the one they go to. They’ve been going for years now and it’s the best weeks of the summer for them.
      But I looked around a lot before I found the one I trusted and the one they liked.

    • Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

      July 23, 2014 at 9:27 pm

      Yeah, I’m hoping the ones that we’ve looked at fit the bill. They are secular, which is important to me, and get rave reviews from parents and kids we know that have dealt with them.

      But…it’s one of those things where that childhood experience makes me feel anxious. It’s going to happen, but I definitely appreciate the good press from folks like you and the author to remind me that there’s a ton of positive to be had from the experience.

  2. Cruelty Cupcake

    July 21, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    My kids are only 2 years old and 1 month old, but I’m already dreaming about sleepaway camp and boarding school. Can someone just take these kids and do the hard stuff for me? A wet nurse in France? Do they still do that? Kidding. Sorta.

    • Andrea

      July 23, 2014 at 8:02 pm

      Sleep away camp is everything you dream it will be. Two GLORIOUS weeks of no-one-fucking-bugs-me. Me time galore. Sex in all the rooms of the house. It’s awesome.

      The kids also love it. LOL

  3. aCongaLine

    July 22, 2014 at 11:42 am

    I went to summer camp (sleep away, Girl Scout camp) from 4th grade until I was 25. I had such an amazing experience as a child, that I knew I wanted to work there, and give back the same for the next generation of girls. I was unit staff, then program staff, then administration when I was in college/after college. It was an amazing experience, and I felt that summer camp allowed me to be the best version of myself. I’m always striving to continue to be the person my campers thought I was. I met some of my very best friends at summer camp. It changed my life, for the good.

  4. guest

    July 22, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    I was beyond excited at the prospect of sleepaway camp until I got there and realized when they said church camp they meant it. It was really hard to watch Veggie Tales when at home I could watch Die Hard. I could never find the spot in the Bible they were reading because I never read one. I went to get my face painted within the first hour I was there and the person told me I couldn’t have a ying-yang (which was the coolest thing at the time) because it represented another religion. I was pretty irritated at that point but as far as camp activities I had a lot of fun swimming, eating with friends, bunking all together etc.

    • guest

      July 22, 2014 at 3:37 pm

      Also, my mom sent me a box of cookies (even though I was literally there for like a week) which was the coolest thing ever.

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