I sent my two boys to overnight camp for the first time this past summer and am now an Experienced Camp Parent. Okay, I’m just slightly more experienced than I was when I sent in the initial deposit.
I’ve changed as a person due to my kids’ camp experience. I’ve learned that you should always have a dozen Sharpies at hand, and that said Sharpies should be carefully stored out of reach-range of your two year old daughter. On a more substantive level, I’ve learned that I actually don’t want to be a helicopter parent, and want my kids to have fun and meaningful experiences independently of me.
But as Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is the name that we give to our mistakes.” So let me run through a few things I would have done differently as a first-time camp parent, in the hope of sparing you some agony:
1. EXPLAIN EVERYTHING TO YOUR CHILD. Before your child goes to camp, it is absolutely essential to explain everything that you have packed for your child to your child. Take it slowly, step by step: bug repellent is to be sprayed on the skin, not ingested. You may think this little tour is unnecessary. You are wrong.
For a not-hypothetical example, you may think that when you send a bottle in your son’s camp bag that clearly (in the child’s native language), reads, “body wash/shampoo/conditioner,” that you do not need to explain that he is to use that bottle’s contents as soap, shampoo and conditioner. On his body, while water is running in the shower. My unfortunate experience says that you would be wrong.
2. DO NOT IMPUTE MEANING TO YOUR CHILD’S PHOTOS FROM CAMP. We’ve addressed this.
3. BEFORE THEY LEAVE, MAKE YOUR CHILDREN ADDRESS AND STAMP ALL ENVELOPES THEMSELVES.
I know many parents address and stamp envelopes and/or postcards home for their children. In my entirely anecdotal, non-statistical experience, the kids for whom that is done feel that they have invested nothing in the writing experience and were therefore less likely to actually use said stationery.
Jewish tradition has it that it is required for parents to teach their children how to swim. Why is swimming so important? Because in the event that they find themselves in a difficult situation in the water, they will be able to save themselves and perhaps someone else. Similarly, if you teach your child how to do their own work – not do it for them – they will learn from the experience and be able to ‘swim’ themselves.
At the suggestion of a friend, I had my boys address and stamp all their own envelopes. I made my expectations for how often I expected to hear from them quite clear. And they complied, much to my delight. No one was writing voluminously or rapturously like Jane Austen, to be sure, but I still got the amusing communiqués that I sought (“Today was Wilderness Day -we learned how to light a fire with a lighter!”).
4. DO NOT SEND ANYTHING NEW TO CAMP. Well, okay, you’re going to have to buy the sleeping bag and all the camp-required gear. That being said, there is no need to invest in new sneakers prior to camp. I say this as the woman who looked at my son’s feet at the end of camp and said, “What happened to the sneakers we bought the day before you left?” before realizing that holy crap, those awful rags on his feet WERE the sneakers we bought the day before he left.
5. WHEN YOUR KID COMES HOME, HAVE THE FOLLOWING SUPPLIES AT THE READY: Athlete’s foot medicine. Nail clipper. Q-tips. AfterBite/Benadryl.
6. DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, ALLOW YOUR CHILD TO REMOVE HIS/HER SHOES ON THE CAR RIDE HOME FROM CAMP.
“Honey, is there any chance that there might be a dead animal in your duffel bag?” “What? No.” “Are you sure? Because it smells like a rotting corpse in the backseat…OMG PUT YOUR SHOES BACK ON!”
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