As I mentioned in my Jeep packing post, BOTH my kids left this time.
Sleepaway camp, that kidtopia in the mountains of upstate NY that they dream of all year. 10 for 2 translates into living 10 months in anticipation for the 2 that they are at camp.
For anyone who has never experienced this, and certainly parents who did not have sleepaway in their childhoods, it sounds absurd to send your kids away for the summer. Mine both started at 10. It is his 7th summer and her 10th! She is a third year counselor and group leader and he is a waiter. Waiter/waitress summer is the ultimate summer at this camp. They define themselves by this year, he will forever be an ’08 and she an ’05. I met someone recently who went there and he told me he was an ’88. I had to explain to others what that meant.
At breakfast yesterday a friend asked me to explain this camp. What was the lure that kept these kids coming back year after year, some well through their college years, others through grad school and sometimes beyond if they are teachers.
This friend happens to be the grandmother of 2 ‘legacy/legend’ counselors at the boys camp. One of them is 24, has graduated UPENN and taught in South America for the past year. My point being, this is no lazy slouch. In trying to explain, I told her this:
To start, I went to this camp. I know first-hand what keeps them going back. My husband, brother, in-law siblings, cousins and even my mother and aunts went there. My kids are known as third generation (a prized status, I might add). There is actually a fourth generation family. We are very jealous.
So what is the IT? The best explanation would be the sense of family, of belonging to a place and it to you. A culture of acceptance that no matter who you are or where you come from, this place is yours. Athlete, musician, artist, actor, outdoorsperson, offbeat personality, wise-ass – they are all accepted and embraced equally for who they are. This place is the level playing field where kids form relationships with other kids they would otherwise never hang with. Relationships there last a lifetime. Our kids are friends with the children of our camp friends!
Many camps can make this claim. But when you see generation after generation sending their kids, the proof is in that action. Some claim it is a marital dealbreaker. If the spouse does not agree to send their unborn kids to this camp the wedding is off (you think I am kidding, don’t you?) A few years ago I asked my son why one of his counselors did not come back and he said, “oh mom, he had to be a lawyer” This kid had been in law school and still going back!
30+ years later when I step foot on that turf I have a sense of coming home. Of being somewhere that makes me feel that I have finally struck a balance.
There is no greater joy than to watch your kids experience that kind of childhood euphoria that you have known. When they tell you about their time there, they know that you fully understand. It is a bond that transcends the parent-child relationship. You are them and they are you. What a gift!
It is bittersweet when they leave us now. They are at an age where they do not compromise our lifestyle, rather they enhance it. When they were younger (and needier) we counted the days to have our time to ourselves. Now we feel the void in a different way, maybe one of foreshadowing.
But we still have the same response when other parents ask us what we do all summer without our kids…
Whatever the hell we want!