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Are Your Kids Ready For Summer Sleep Away Camp? Are You?

Jul11

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Summer camp. The butt of many jokes, the setting for many horror movies, the rite of passage that marks the time of childhood when one is old enough to be away from home, yet not old enough to have any responsibilities.

How do you know if your kids are ready to go to sleep away camp? And are you ready to let them go, or will you spend the week teary-eyed lying on their bed waiting for their return?

Last year was the first year any of my children attended a sleep away summer camp. I dutifully went through the packing list, shopped for every item, labeled everything– though if you want me to let you in on a little secret when you are a part of a large family with closely spaced siblings your underwear is already labeled with your initials.

I was excited for them. They had talked non-stop about camp for months and finally the time came to put them on the bus that would take them away.

I am usually not an overly emotional mother. I love watching my children grow and take steps toward being independent. So when the bus pulled away and I burst into tears behind the steering wheel of my car I was a little surprised with myself. My babies were going away to camp with people who were strangers and they had no way to contact me. Sure, when I initially signed them up for camp lo those many months ago, the complete ban on electronic devices, to include cell phones, was a big positive for me. Now? Watching the bus drive away? I wasn’t as sure.

What if they don’t like camp?
What if the other kids are mean to them?
What if when they are asleep the other kids put their hand in a cup of warm water?
What if they drown in the lake because the teenage counselors are too busy flirting with each other to properly watch their charges?
What if a chainsaw wielding serial killer wearing a hockey mask infiltrates the camp and they don’t know NOT to go investigate that strange noise in the dark abandoned cabin?
What if they are homesick?
What if this whole camp is just a rouse to indoctrinate them into some sort of Satanic cult?
What if they don’t bathe or brush their teeth?

All of these things raced through my brain.

I went to summer camp for several years as a kid and I hated every moment of it. And it was day camp, not sleep away, I can’t even fathom the horror if I had been forced to also sleep there. I just remember that the days seemed so very long and hot and they were filled with things I was required to participate in. I was not, and still am not, an outdoorsy kind of girl. My idea of communing with nature was sitting under a shady tree with a book. I complained bitterly about camp every single day and night, all summer long.

But as I have had to learn over and over again, my children are not clones of me. I know, it is quite shocking! I gave to birth to them the least they could do is be exactly like me. In fact, they seem quite intent on being my polar opposite– these gregarious, outgoing, athletic little people. Exactly the sort of kids who would love to spend their days swimming, kayaking, shooting arrows, and making endless keychains of gimp and macrame wall hangings, though I might be dating myself a wee bit with that last one.

They had all the signs of being ready for summer camp that the so-called experts talk about, as well as some of my own personal benchmarks:

1: The biggest in my opinion, the desire to go to camp
2: They have all successfully spent the night away from home
3: They can take care of their personal hygiene
4: They can swim
5: The idea of being around people they don’t know and making new friends excites them, rather than terrifies them
6: Even though I limit it severely, they need a break from screen time (video games, computers, etc) and interacting with other children, who are not members of their family or close friends, on a constant basis is good for their interpersonal skills
7: Being by themselves and being responsible for their own choices builds character, and who can’t use a little character building from time to time
8: The camp that came highly recommended by friends and neighbors was a good fit for their
interests
9: As a parent you are ready to let them go
10: And as a good friend of mine said recently, once your kids are sleep-away-camp-age they are probably staying up later than you at night, sleep away camp gives you the opportunity to have sex at a decent hour again!

Only one of my fears came to pass –the complete lack of bathing. I asked my nine-year old upon his return home why he hadn’t brushed his teeth or showered. Do you want to know what he said? He said, “You didn’t pack me any shampoo or a toothbrush.”

I reached into his duffle bag filled with completely clean and still folded clothes and pulled out the toiletry bag I had so painstakingly packed. Do you want to know what he said then? he said, “Huh, I wondered what that was!”

Apparently he didn’t wonder enough to unzip the bag and look inside.

Looking on the bright side, it is all packed and ready for this year.

About the author

Chris Jordan

http://notesfromthetrenches.com
Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.

Yes, they are all hers.

No she's not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.

Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That's why her youngest is almost 6.

Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.


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15 Responses to “Are Your Kids Ready For Summer Sleep Away Camp? Are You?”

  1. I’d like a whiff of THAT breath!

  2. pogita Jul 12 at 9:52 am Reply Reply

    I LOVED summer camp. I went for seven years. The first year was HORRIBLE and the horse camp was a big mistake since they expected you to know something about horses (huh?). The other years were incredible. I made great friends, I learned every John Denver song ever written, and I got to spend some time figuring out who I was outside of my family. I am a shy introverted person and summer camp gave me the opportunity to experiment with different ways to meet and interact with folks. One year I fell on the obstacle course and had to go to the hospital for stitches. They told my mom it would build character if I stayed the wek anyway. They were right. My mom said she cried every night. I didnt though. After that first night post accident I had an awesome time. Plus I got to be the girl who had to be rushed to the hospital.

  3. caree Jul 12 at 2:42 pm Reply Reply

    The 6 years I went to summer camp growing up were the happiest times of my life (quite the cliche- but true). I was already an outdoorsy girl, looking to escape suburban life, even temporarily, so it was right up my alley. The experience shaped me as a person. I was never homesick for one second and camp allowed me to have my own little world outside of my family.

  4. Kathy Jul 13 at 11:45 am Reply Reply

    My 12-year-old will be going away to camp for the first time this year. In the beginning I think she was more nervous, but now I am. Thankfully, she is bunking with some friends (she wouldn’t go without that safety net) and it turns out several more friends will also be at camp. At first all these friends made me feel like camp wouldn’t be a learning experience, but they all play different instruments and won’t be spending all day together. They will all meet new people and have the comfort of home. She is so very excited!

  5. Arnebya Jul 13 at 11:54 am Reply Reply

    My oldest has refused to return after last year’s fiasco: http://whatnowandwhy.blogspot.com/2010/07/sleep-away-camp.html. We didn’t push it, but I’m hoping she’ll be interested again next year. She showed some interest this year for Girl Scouts (b/c we assumed they wouldn’t engage in the behavior of the other camp) but in the end we decided to give her time to get used to the idea again. The middle girl would probably go without hesitation. Cracking up at the still clean, folded clothes and no use of a toothbrush. Boys!

  6. Sherry Jul 13 at 12:28 pm Reply Reply

    My son’s camp has a two-night camp that first-timers can attend to get the feel of the camp. Two years ago, when he was nine, he went for the first time. When we went to pick him up after, he was grinning from ear to ear and said, “When can I come back?” He’s been back twice (he’s there now) and he loves it!

  7. Tiffani W Jul 13 at 12:47 pm Reply Reply

    My 7 year old daughter just went to a 5 day sleep over camp. SHe was totally ready and had a blast! I thought I was ready until day 2. i hated not being able to call her just to see how things were going. It was so much harder on me then I thought. It was the longest she had ever been away from me. But already we are both looking forward to next year!

  8. hennifer Jul 13 at 1:06 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks for this post. This is likely my son’s last year in daycare, he’s 10 1/2, and I’m not so worried about the few after school hours but realizing I’ll have to think about summers. I come from a large family and only got to go to camp once and I loved it. I think my son would really love to do this next year.

  9. I love the idea of sleepaway camp and truly would not even miss the kids; BUT I was also a counselor at a (quite expensive) sleepaway camp and am a little too aware of how poor the supervision is. (Case in point: they hired me!)

    We send our kids to Scouting camps instead, where there are adults (usually ones we know) in charge of the kids or where there are specialized skills involved (sailing, boating) so that the staff tends to be slightly older and of a slightly higher caliber. I know this sounds over protective (and, really, compared to other parents these days, I am not that way); but the fact of the matter is that most of these camps need way too many staff and are not able to hire enough capable people. Also, on none of their job applications do they inquire as to the mental stability of the staff applicants. I checked.

    And, yes, I know there are fantastic camp counselors out there. There just aren’t enough of them.

  10. Shelly Jul 13 at 6:10 pm Reply Reply

    I loved going to camp for the week and wished it was for more than just one week.  Now I am a Day Camp Director and a Resident Camp director.  I love my summertime job and cannot wait for resident camp in two weeks.

  11. sue {laundry for six} Jul 14 at 9:43 am Reply Reply

    My oldest goes for the first time in 2 weeks.  He does like to bathe and brush his teeth, so I think we’re ok there.  But I am still worried. And I hadn’t even thought of the chainsaw-wielding serial killer. 

  12. nicki Jul 14 at 10:14 am Reply Reply

    Oh, the stories I could tell of how horrible we were at Christian summer camp….at least for Christian camp.  One counselor got an entire can of mouse in her hair (she was showering to the wee smalls to get it all out).  On the last night of our first year, most of the campers turned on the counselors and threw sodas all over them.  I am unsure if we ever slept for the trips but I know we bathed… I remember the showers.

  13. df Jul 15 at 8:04 am Reply Reply

    Great piece. My oldest is 13 and has done sleep away camps with the Scouts since he was 9 and loves them. Only long weekends (there just hasn’t been the opportunity for longer stays). My eight year old is not ready and may never be! Chris, I’ve been dying to know how much electronic screen time (esp computer games) you do allow your children. I’ve been reading you for years, but can’t recall an article or a post on this. Hearing about your approach would be very interesting.

  14. Liberty Jul 15 at 3:10 pm Reply Reply

    My hubs is dropping of out 11 year old right now…and I have had every.single thought. you put in the first list. The main thing I’m worried about is kids being mean to him. He’s the sweet sensitive type with a wide strip of Kick ass so I’m hoping and praying he’ll get along well…
    And it’s only 2 hours away. so I told him, he can make a mayday call anytime.
    So that’s it. He’s not nearly as nervous as I am. When my oldest goes next week I might just cry, though.

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