“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. No place…..”* I am sure that many young campers empathized with Dorothy in the past the few weeks. I hope, by now, sleep away camps are filled with young children who have turned that phrase around and feel that there’s no place like camp.
Last summer I wrote about “Those Summer Days” (http://iwishmymom.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/those-summer-days/) of my youth when I was sometimes thrilled to be at our swim club and sometimes overwhelmed with boredom, but never, ever envious of children at sleep away camp. In fact, the one summer I did attend sleep away camp, I suffered with extreme homesickness for the entire two week session. I can still feel the angst and sadness I endured when my parents said goodbye and drove off to Niagara Falls. “How could they leave me and go so far away,” I wondered over the ensuing 14 days of misery. I must have been almost delirious because I cried and screamed, “I need the nurse…let me see the nurse” as the Camp Sacajawea nurse attempted to comfort me. Eventually I settled into the camp routine, accepted my predicament and even decided to enjoy camp. The postcard my parents sent from their trip made me sad, but also gave me hope that they would return.
As I hear stories of homesick campers, I wonder if my mom had a difficult time leaving me or if she drove off with that all-knowing parent confidence that I would endure and even triumph over my fears. And, I wonder why I was so homesick. Was I just too young to go to sleep away camp? Would I have thrived there if my parents had waited to send me? I do not think I was overly attached to my mom and I had watched my best friend leave for sleep away camp without any hesitation. I should have been able to adjust. My mom had the right intentions—why wouldn’t I enjoy the same camp that my sister (2 ½ years older) liked the year before?
Even after my own children became day campers, I questioned the necessity of this all-day and sleep-away camp experience. I never even liked day camp (I was one of those children who couldn’t learn the camp bus songs. Fee Fi FoEeeny meeny desoleeny was too confusing for me), but I knew that my daughter needed to have summer days full of scheduled activities. After first refusing to even tour Willow Lake Day Camp, she agreed to meet with the director. A few minutes later, my seven year old baby girl wanted to sign up and started counting the days until camp started. And, nine summers later, she is now a counselor helping first and second grade girls cope and even thrive while sleeping at Camp Poyntelle for 7 weeks. She is distracting them, helping them miss and write to their parents without too many tears. I am so proud of her and think back to how her first grade leap to Willow Lake paved the camp road for her.
Contrary to my daughter’s desires, my son has chosen to stay home and play sports each summer. He happily attended a week long sleep away camp for a few summers, but chooses playing a sport over leaving home. How fortunate that two siblings who each wanted very different summer situations have been able to have what they desired. How nice that after my 2 weeks of misery, my mom knew to wait until sending me away again.
Why do so many of us choose to send our children to summer camp without first understanding what they really want or need? Is it because that was what our moms did for us? Do we base our childrens’ summer plans on what is best for them or for us? How do we know whether we should push our children through a spell of homesickness? How can we help our children fill in their own blank, “There’s no place like ____________.”
*Baum, L. F. The Wonderful Wizard of Ozz. New York, NY: HarperTrophy, 2001.