Packing for Camp

Three and a half weeks.

In three and a half weeks we will drop Julianna off at overnight camp.  As an avid reader of this blog, you might remember a post I wrote 2 years ago about her first day at day camp.  That day went well.

The day camp experience is very different than the overnight (residential) camp experience.  For those of you who were deprived of camp, at day camp, you get on the bus in the morning, spend the day doing all sorts of sports and crafts and swimming activities, and then get on a bus and go home in the afternoon.  With overnight camp, you get dropped on off day 1 and…peace out…see you in three and a half weeks (or seven).

In 1988 my parents dropped me off at this camp, Camp Tevya.  I was 10, about to turn 11.  While I’d love to go into my whole camp story, for the sake of your sanity, and mine, I’ll do the summary timeline:

1988 – Start as a camper

1992 – Last year as a camper

1993 – Counselor-in-Training summer

1994-1999 – Counselor

2001 – Assistant Head Counselor and a variety of other things

2002 – Head Counselor (long story)

2004 – Variety of administrative jobs

2005 – Head Counselor (the summer I reconnected with my now wife, at camp)

2009-2010 – Director (Julianna was just over 1, Chloe was 3 months old)

So.  Julianna took her first steps at this camp while I was the Director.  She ate many meals and slept many nights at camp.  She has been in the lake, and done arts and crafts.  Many of the adults who work at camp know her and many of the kids who were campers at that time are counselors now.

Last summer, we went up to do a formal tour of camp.  The camp does this each summer so families considering camp can come and see how it all works.  In my years working at camp, I have given many many tours.  This was the first time I really made a conscious decision to step back and try to really let the experience be Julianna’s.  She was pretty excited about the prospects of coming to camp after that tour.  Not too long after that, Camp had a “Try-Out” day where any kids who wanted could come and do some camp activities and get a feel for what a day-in-the-life might feel like.  The parents were split off while the kids went and did activities.  I remember Julianna running up to me a few hours later, with a cookie she baked for me, saying, “Dad, I’m coming to camp next summer.”

“Dad, I’m coming to camp next summer.”

And so the countdown began…

Was/am I a bit nervous?  Sure.  She’s entering the 3rd grade in the fall.  That’s pretty much the youngest age to come to camp’ younger than I was when I started.

Is she nervous?  Sure.  She told me recently as much, followed by her saying, “I know you and mom loved it and so I’m sure I will too.”

We talk periodically, but not constantly, about camp.  We ask what she’s nervous about and what she’s excited about.  We remind her that she’ll know a ton of the grown ups at camp and a ton of other kids (including one of her 1st cousins who is also starting this summer).  She helps us with gathering things to pack.  She, obviously, helped make “elective activity” choices like “Jazzy Jewelry” and Ceramics, and Newcomb.  She’s gone on play dates with other new kids and we all went to the new camper orientation that the camp (and its sister camps) do each spring.

I have watched literally thousands of kids go to camp.  I speak at camp conferences and have visited many camps around the region.  I have been involved in the camping world for close to 30 years in one form or another.  5 of the years as a counselor were spent with the youngest age group.  This is the group that has the highest percentage of new campers.  This is also the age group that Julianna is starting in.  Yada yada yada, I have plenty of formal experience with this stuff, and I know more about this than probably anything else in my life.

But this time is different.  We’ve never been away from each other for this long.  It’s an odd thing to miss someone so much, so soon, before she’s even gone, while at the same time being so incredibly excited for her to start this part of her journey.  I know what happens next:

She makes the best friends in the world.  She learns a ton about living independently.  She never spends a whole summer at home with me again because she loves camp so much, that next summer she’ll go for 7 weeks and she keeps going until she can become a counselor which takes her all the way through college graduation.

Or…her story is different, and here’s the key: it’s her story now and not only am I completely ok with that (as crazy as I might seem), but I can’t wait to read it.

We are packing for camp, all of us, both literally and emotionally because…

Three and a half weeks…