It's my 9-year-old daughter Jane's first year at sleepaway camp, and she's been having a terrific time. We've gotten happy letters and seen smiling photos of her on the camp website. She's always been rather scared and clingy by nature, so it's been delightful to see her embrace all that camp has to offer. This past Saturday was visiting day, and I was excited to let her show us around like she owned the place.
However, I was totally thrown for a loop when it was time to say goodbye and she started crying hard. "This has been the best day of camp so far," she sobbed. That made sense, of course: She got to be with her camp friends AND her parents—AND she'd gotten a big bag of goodies, including her favorite pretzels, and homemade brownie cookies, scones, and heart-shaped chocolate-chip pancakes. But when she insisted, "You're not leaving! I'm not going to let you leave!" I got a pang in the pit of my stomach: Did seeing us somehow break the magic spell and make her think more about how she missed us than about what an awesome experience she was having?
Fortunately, her counselors swooped in to help distract her, and we got a thoughtful email from the head counselor that evening to let us know that Jane was back in the swing of things (see photo above). Yet I still felt emotionally and physically drained.
So I am focusing today on these wonderful things that kids do at camp:
Commune with nature. While Jane spends most of every day outdoors, she is dealing with her fear of flying insects. She calmly informed us that there was a horsefly nest outside her bunk, and that she doesn't need to wear bug repellant because the mosquitoes don't bite her. (Check out these nature-inspired crafts to do at home together.)
Discover new talents. The Hunger Games isn't on her radar yet, but Jane now loves archery. She keeps getting bulleyes and was the only younger camper invited to join the archery team (who knew there was one?) and compete at another camp.
Learn summer lingo. I chuckled to hear her new habit of saying "yeah" between most thoughts, as in: "We have free swim every afternoon. Yeah. I'm working on my diving. Yeah." One of her counselors must do that. But it was impressive to hear her use the word "freakishly" correctly in a sentence.
Make friends with everyone. Cliques aren't cool at camp. In one of her letters, Jane wrote, "I just realized that our whole bunk is so close!!"
Be homesick and happy. As our advisor Dr. Michael Thompson's wise book says, it's a valuable lesson to realize that you can miss your parents and still have a great time.
Back to School: Advice for Every Grade