Summer camp

Aug 10

I went to summer camp when I was a kid.  It was summer camp with enthusiastic counselors, bugs, archery, a woodshed, a lake with kayaks and seaweed, a how-could-it-possibly-be-this-cold pool, four square courts, a Friday night dance, wood cabins with quaint names, and a big hill.  I was probably about ten-years-old when my nine-year-old sister and I got dropped off together for the first time.  We each brought a friend, and stayed in different cabins — both smart moves orchestrated by my mom, no doubt.  And my five-year-old sister was mad (and is still mad) she didn’t get to go even though she got a pet hamster while we were away.  Mom definitely should have sent baby sister too: she could have skipped both the wrath and having a hamster.  On the first day I barrell-rolled down the big hill and got dizzy and tumbled and grass stained.  That’s camp: a series of new experiences that leave you dizzy and grounded.

I was sent to camp armed with a trunk, and a friendship bracelet box, and twin sheets with koalas on them.  I still remember lining up my shoes under my bed, the particular ticking whirr of the fan through the screened windows, and the eclectic things my cabin mates brought with them to camp.  I learned hand clap songs and games; I can still repeat the whole verse if someone starts the first line.  Bug bites and new freckles were norms.  My sister didn’t figure out where the showers were until Wednesday.  Our counselors were glorified big sisters and we idolized them.  We sang camp songs at the top of our voices at the flagpole, on the trails through the woods, and in the dining hall.  There was a favorite concoction called Chicken Surprise, which only sounds appetizing to people under the age of eleven.  It was oddly delicious and my mom never did try to make it for us; maybe it was the Rice Krispies as a main ingredient that turned her off.  I had new best friends for a week, and we turned pen pals after our Saturday good-byes.

I could do both French braids and hair wraps — skills that are in high demand for girls at summer camp — so my hands were always busy.  It was a low key way for me to engage with new friends and group settings since I was quiet and shy by nature, and allowed me to invite friendship by giving and creating.

It was some of my first free range spending money at the camp store.  Oooooh, a bandana, a lanyard, a dreamcatcher… I hemmed and hawed over my choices for days and couldn’t believe that my friends would rather have gummy worms.  I wanted something that would last — I was sentimental, even then.

Today I picked my kids up from their second (!) week long sleep away camp of the summer.  I miss them terribly while they are away, but it is so good for them to experience the freedom of existing outside of our family unit for a week (or two).  Lifting the  norms, changing the boundaries, and giving them permission and opportunity to explore brings them home to me as rounder, fuller individuals.  With new freckles and bug bites to boot.

I sent them off with suitcases because that is what we already owned; they slept in air-conditioned bunks.  You can be sure I scoffed about how camp in my day had a rattley fan and enough small animals and giant bugs that trunks were required instead of suitcases because they were easier to keep critter-free.  One year there was a bat in our cabin.  I sent them off with a friendship bracelet box and a tight hug.  They came home with stories to share of brave moments, new friends, and sentimental songs.  Summer camp in our world is absolutely as kumbaya as it seems — the closing circles of kids and preteens and young adults singing and swaying and shedding tears that they have to part ways gets me every time.

And, thankfully, they are glad to be back; both lingered at my side and held my hand during the pick up ceremonies.  I kept tracing my fingers over and around them — I swear they both grew this week.

We have so much to talk about: adventuring is our family love, and my girls thrive in adventure.


  1. Ginger /

    Oh I remember those camp days well! ?

  2. Christin /

    Beautiful! I was a camper and, later, a counselor! This brought back distinct and precious memories!

  3. What a great memory share-er. Thank you for recreating camp life for us all to share. Love you

  4. Cindy Mitchell /

    Jen, it was nice to hear the girls went to camp.. I didn’t get to go to camp.. But did send our son.. I think it is an awesome thing kids can do and should do. The stories they will have forever..take care and sending hugs