Throughout the school year, my daughter’s Instagram feed is filled with posts from friends - “#campzipcode is my home,” “100 days until I’m HOME” and “meet me at HOME #campzipcode.” And it makes sense – as a parent, you probably spent hours picking out the perfect camp for your family. You talked to the directors and other families and probably most importantly, made sure the camp values matched that of your own. Camp is a place where we send our children to build their identity, create memories and friendships. When I see these posts and hear that my kids feel that camp is their second home, it is almost like they are giving me a blue ribbon that says “Job well done, Mom, you picked the right place for me!”
There has been a lot of camp talk in the media lately that, honestly, makes me cringe and want to look away. Recently the NY Times ran a piece about care packages and of course, there’s that piece about visiting day whose name I can’t even bring myself to type.
If kids see camp as their second home, why can’t we – as parents – respect that and not try to undo what camps try so hard to create? Why do visiting day and care packages become a way to outdo each other? Why do we feel the need to break all the rules, and win our kids love with the biggest candy tower? Are these the values we are looking to instill in our children – score more goals than the kid next to you, I hope you get more turns on the pottery wheel and your clay bowls are bigger than the kid in the bunk above you?
If another kid came into our home and behaved the way we do when it comes to camp – I can only imagine what would ensue. We have all asked our children not to bring ‘that kid’ home after school. In my house – like most homes – we set rules and expect our children and their friends to abide by them. We don’t have many rules (I am on the verge of teenagers so I am sure they are coming) – be kind, be inclusive, be honest, don’t eat chocolate on the couch, get your homework done before Oovoo-ing with your friends… Yet, when a camp sets similar reasonable rules we set the example for our children by hollowing out deodorant bottles as a hiding place for candy. OMG – there is a gummy bear emergency in Bunk Aleph! Think about the position you are putting your child in when they find the hidden candy or even worse, a hidden cellphone in a sock. They need to “hide the contraband” from the counselors they are supposed to respect and look up to and ask their friends to keep secrets.
We will never stop running towards our kids on visiting day. When we scope out places for our tents and blankets on Visiting Day do we put cracks in the community that our children created? Do we need to cover their beds in candy towers, Rice Krispie ice cream cones and dozens of Sprinkles cupcakes? At camp we encourage kids to discover new parts to themselves and make new connections. Why can’t that apply to their relationship with their parents too? It need not be about the loot. The kids just want us. Our full attention – so they can show off their favorite places in camp, introduce us to 200 of their new best friends and tell the stories that make this magical place of camp, their second home.
When parents hide cellphones in socks and balloons in between the pages of magazines trying to get around the flat care package only rule, they are taking the staff (remember the staff – you asked a million questions on how they are trained, where they come from etc) away from doing what they are supposed to be doing – creating a community, facilitating learning, cheering on your child as they accomplish something new.
This is their other home, and the camp directors set the rules – we expect the kids to follow all the ones at camp, not just the ones they like, right? Like at home, the rules are there to keep them safe and happy. Camps directors spend hours analyzing camper photographers, deciding if they should allow packages or determining how to communicate with parents. The sooner we learn to respect those rules and decisions, the sooner we can expect to enjoy some of the magic from our campers summer homes to seep into our own.