Nowadays, the specialization of camps has evolved. My children have unlimited choices including camps devoted solely to sports to music to bird watching/nature camps to learning a foreign language. As I contemplate summer plans for my older son, I recognize that by the end of August he could be an improved soccer player with the ability to identify the type of bird flying overhead, congratulate a teammate in Portuguese and recognize the type of shrubbery surrounding the field-- all the while honing his harmonica skills as a sideline.
Last summer we did find a general all around sleepover camp for him. As the starting date approached I recalled his recent "sleepover" birthday party. It suddenly dawned on me that I might be sending him off for two weeks of a wild GameBoy soiree with post-midnight bedtimes, meals of candy and chips and non-stop belching contests.
When camp day arrived, I had the normal parental trepidation as my wife and I left my son off with what seemed to be enough supplies to survive twelve years alone in the wilderness. I tried to convince myself that he'd write us many lengthy letters detailing the great time he was having. Yeah, right. Like he's going to be saying to his bunkmates, "You guys go on and have ice cream and start playing mud volleyball without me. I'm just going to stay inside here and finish up this five page letter to my folks."
After the first week passed without a word, I wondered if he'd forgotten us or simply lost all 72 addressed and stamped envelopes that we'd provided. Perhaps we should have sent pre-made post cards where he could construct a letter by simply checking the appropriate boxes:
1. Having fun [ ] Beats school [ ] Get me outa here [ ]
2. I miss everybody [ ] See you sometime [ ] What was my brother's name again? [ ]
3. Love and kisses [ ] From your wild and crazy son [ ] Yo [ ]
We finally received a letter and were pleased to learn the following:
- He remembered he had parents and two younger siblings.
- The main reason he finally wrote was to request that we forward his Nintendo Power magazine.
- He could still produce a fairly legible four-syllable sentence that appeared to say:
"Camp is a blast!" (Or was that some secret code actually reading "Damp in a mast!")
Well, not as much detail as the tax code but it was all we needed to know.
The best part thereafter was receiving a picture of him and a short note from his counselor. The photo showed him with his shirt on inside out and backward and his shoes untied with no socks on. His hair clearly had not been introduced to his comb for the past eight days and chocolate cookie remains surrounded his smiling mouth as he hammed it up for the camera. He appeared to be having the time of his life, which was confirmed by his counselor's letter stating, "I've yet to meet a warm-blooded vertebrate that has more fun."
When we finally picked him up after two weeks away we learned about the joy in having your bathing suit pulled off from a wipe out while water skiing and that he could eat sixteen s'mores without getting sick. He also casually advised us he had a large frog named Big Bertha traveling home in his duffel bag.
Seeing him interrupt his little brother in mid-sentence with a bear hug reaffirmed that despite the constant barrage of head noogies at home, he truly missed him. We also learned that he could survive quite happily, for a time, without us. Which, as a parent, is the most rewarding and frightening lesson of all.
But that's what camp experiences are all about. That and proudly wearing the ribbon for winning the Backstreet Boys karaoke contest.