The first thing I saw when I got down to the cabins in the woods was two wild looking boys having a piggy back ride. The one of top was my son, and he yelled, “It’s my Mom, run away quick!” Next, another wild boy walked out of his cabin, took one look at me, and ran back into his cabin. He was my other son.
The kids waiting for their parents looked happy, and cleaner than I expected. All my worries that my kids had been miserable all week at sleep away camp evaporated. They were hiding from me because they didn’t want to leave.
After I eventually did find them, we took pictures with their friends and said goodbyes. While we waited in line a the camp store, the boys started telling me what they had learned.
What they learned about food at camp.
- Hotdogs can be burnt on the outside and cold on the inside. It’s true. “It was disgusting, Mom,” the boys told me, “the hot dogs were all black on the outside. But when you bit into them, they were super cold.” The girls behind us in line were a couple of year older. They confirmed that it was true.
- Waffles can be rock hard AND taste good. When the girls behind us started tell me all about how hard the waffles were at breakfast each morning, my son nodded. “So I guess that means you didn’t eat any breakfast?” I assumed. “Oh no, Mom, I ate the whole waffle. It tasted really good, once I chewed it.”
- The food was “inedible” but it was fun anyway. “The quesadillas were the worst!” my son explained, acting out vomitting. “I can wait to get home and get some edible food.”
What they learned about bugs at camp.
- Spiders are not scary after all. Both the boys declared that they are no longer afraid of bugs. “There were bugs everywhere, Mom. I’m totally over my fear of insects.”
- Daddy Long Legs are creepy. This surprised me. They aren’t afraid of bugs anymore, but Daddy Long Legs creep them out? “Yeah, they are definitely creepy. Their legs are really really long.” OK then.
- If you spray a bug with sunscreen, it will stop crawling up your leg. “Seriously, Mom. Seriously. I just sprayed it with my sunscreen.”
Tips on sleep and hygiene at camp.
- A flashlight in your sleeping bag helps. My son still prefers a little light on in his room at night. To survive his first time away from home, he kept a lit flashlight on inside his sleeping bag.
- Showers in Creek water smell bad. “I showered three times, Mom,” my son said proudly. “Why would you do that?” asked his brother. “That water smelled so bad, it would make you dirtier than you were before.” “It didn’t smell bad,” replied his brother. “Yes it did, it smelled like eggs!” This is when I asked if that meant he didn’t shower at all? Nope. Not one time.
- Brushing your teeth is optional. Upon unpacking their things, I found a pristine new toothbrush an an unopened toothpaste. Was there any point in calling my son on this? After all, at least this was the one who showered. The one who didn’t shower had brushed his teeth. So I guess it’s either one or the other at camp. We settled on an extra thorough flossing and brushing at bedtime that night.
Campfires and Merch
- My son now considers himself an expert on fires. Fortunately, that expertise involved tips like wearing fireproof gloves when lighting matches. He learned to be very careful with fire. His outdoor living class was supposed to involve cooking. When we asked him what they cooked, he answered, “marshmallows, every day.”
- They can use their trading post money to buy “merch.” My son explained at length his decision to buy a t-shirt on sale for $5 because he only had $15 dollars left, and the other t-shirt was $10. That way he still had $10 for candy. I was excited about the math problem, but he urged me to go to the trading post so we could buy more “merch” before we left.
- It’s fun to buy things for friends at the trading post. All the kids in my son’s cabin were first timers at sleep-away camp. So when my son found out that his new friend’s parents only gave him $5 for the trading post, he wanted to share. “Mom, a pack of skittles was $2, so he had almost no money. I bought him lemonade and skittles.” Who knew?
Camp is so much fun, there is no time for homesickness.
- Making friends at camp is easy. “I made friends with all the boys in my cabin!” “We did so many fun things together. I hope my friends are here next year.”
- They didn’t miss us at all. “I didn’t miss you at all, Mom. We were having way too much fun.” “Yeah, Mom, it was super fun. I didn’t miss you either.” This was exactly what I had hoped, I was thrilled.
What Mom learned from our first week of sleep away camp.
In my first post about Why I Sent My Kids to Summer Camp, I shared that I was surprised by how anxious I felt as we were leaving the kids. When I signed them up for camp, it was because I knew they were ready. I had enjoyed my own summer camp experiences and wanted my kids to have that too. And all the research on how good camp is for kids confirmed my plan.
So it was a major surprise to realize the anxiety did not get better. I missed my boys like crazy and counted down the days until I could pick them up. Each night, I even had nightmares about how they were doing. This made me realize that letting go was as hard as people said it was, and that was exactly why it was so important to send the kids to summer camp.
Seeing them happy and dirty and wild when I picked them up, confident in their friends and fun, was the best thing I learned from summer camp.
©Alison Escalante MD
Disclaimer: This article represents general education and does not constitute medical advice. My ideas are mine alone.