Sunday, July 8, 2012

Camp: The Next Generation

I’m still trying to get back into the swing of things after our time away. Making my usual pancakes-sausage-eggs weekend breakfast today nearly gave me a hernia. It’s hard to believe that the habits of years can be monkeyed with by just two weeks away!

I have no regrets, though.

Among other It’s-SO-worth-it moments on our trip, I had the privilege of witnessing my daughter’s first week at summer camp. Not that I hovered over her all week like the helicopter parent I strive not to be, but I did drop her off, I didn’t get all the letters she had too much fun to send, and I did pick her up, letting two hours of “And, last week at camp, we…” wash over me as we drove home.

She has returned to the topic many times since, even after that first, epic two-hour gush!

I love Camp Arrowhead in Lewes, DE—my sisters were campers there, my sisters and I all worked there, and I wouldn’t send my seven-year-old anywhere else.

So, yes, S. got a little tense on the way there. I’ve learned that when S. feels nervous, she gets kind of tight and grey. She looks down and barely speaks. And that’s where things stood when we pulled onto the property. We drove along the shaded, shell drive at the mandatory 10 mph with our windows down, soaking up the smell of pines, only barely tainted by the old-marsh smell of the shells.

We ran into the property manager, who welcomed us, beginning a series of we’re-related-to-a-rock-star encounters. Everyone approached us with a smile and a huge welcome, but when they found out about my sister—we’ll call her Aunt C— who worked at Camp Arrowhead just last summer, they all went nuts! So S. began to look up out of the corner of her eyes. Her shoulders eased a bit, and a hint of color came into her face.

Halfway through luggage line, everyone saw our Florida plates and one super-excited CIT ran up, hollering, “Are you all from Florida? I’m from Tampa!” We had a great chat, and S. perked up a bit more. And so it went, all the way through the check in with the nurse, with the store manager, with everyone. By the time I took this picture S. had come almost all the way back to us.

Then we met her counselor. I’ve been in the counselor’s shoes a few times, and I can honestly say I hope I did as well as she did. She greeted me with a smile, politely and positively, but she connected with S. right away…perfection! I knew it was time to go, so we did. (Little A. did need the bathroom and, on the way back, we saw S. chatting so fast to her counselor that she didn’t even notice us!)

So I didn’t feel one iota nervous. I honestly didn’t, and that shocked me.

It did get a little hairy on the first full day of camp, when the teeny local papers started reporting a random storm with 65 mph winds had cut water and power to camp, dropped a massive tree across the road, and created a gas leak causing evacuations everywhere. Mostly, I worried that camp might need a few extra hands—I knew S. would be fine. But it turns out teeny local papers may exaggerate occasionally! Storm, yes, power and water out for a few hours, yes, but all else fine. And S. learned a whole slew of circle games that we have not even begun to explore!

She really didn’t write, and it really was because she had too much fun. That’s fine because, beyond the deluge of band camp Camp Arrowhead stories, three things really showed me that she got camp.

The first came when I wanted to go visit my old unit. A hundred years ago, my campers and I painted the inside of our outhouse pretty colors. (This may or may not have been an attempt to relocate the 8-inch wolf spider that lived between the studs RIGHT behind the seat.) Of course, the next year it became a boys’ unit. This makes me laugh.
The kids reacting to the alleged outhouse smell...
They don’t use the outhouses anymore (the spider has sole possession now), but it’s still there and I had to take a picture. Displaying all the profound wisdom expected from the mouths of babes, S. watched me photograph a 18+-year-old, decommissioned outhouse and said, “Mom, if this was anywhere but camp, people would think you’re nuts.”

I nearly burst into tears. Isn’t that the essence of camp in one sentence? Anywhere else, people think you’re nuts—but not here.

When we got home, we unpacked the car and I got my second surprise. I never would have asked S. to help me carry her trunk before, but it hit me that campers help each other with trunks all the time. So I said, “Hey, want to help?” And she settled right in, grabbing the front handle with both arms behind her and taking off toward the house. Just as I thought how many campers I’ve seen do that, she said, with far more pride than whine, “This is the way we carried the cooler to Outpost. We had to take turns because it was heavy.”

And camp grew my daughter up a few leaps and bounds.

The most bittersweet part came the next morning. In a quiet moment, I caught S. wiping tears from her eyes. She really didn’t want to tell me why, but eventually she said, “I know it’s silly, but I miss camp!”

Oh, sweet girl.

I said, “That’s not silly. I miss camp, too. But just think—you can go back next year.”

Now, I truly said that just to affirm her feelings. I wanted her to know it’s normal to miss things you like and that I got it. But she came back a couple hours later and floored me.

“Mom, I feel sorry for you. You’ve been missing camp for a really long time.”

Yes, sweet girl, I have. But I cannot think of anything better than watching you grow into your time there!

MUCH love to all the staff at Camp Arrowhead— past, present, and future!



  1. Laughing and crying like the camp nut I am! I guess we couldn't have hoped for a better reaction! Love you guys:)

  2. Awww! you should've seen me writing it! And, no, I don't think it could have possibly been a better match than your niece and CA!