Summer Camp: the Camper vs Parent Experience

by atlas

Summer Camp: Camper vs Parent Experience

As a camp staff, it’s a look I see often. It’s the look of panic when it’s time for parents to depart, leaving their campers on their own. Sometimes it’s hardly noticeable- a lump in the throat, or a raise of the eyebrows. Other times, it’s outright sobbing. And no, I’m not just talking about the campers. In these quick moments, my heart is filled with empathy for both parents and kids. This got me thinking about how this single, shared interaction then takes parents and campers on very different, yet sometimes ironic paths over the next few weeks of camp.


Camper Experience:

Day one: Hides anxiety, reluctantly begins asking questions like “what’s your name?” “Have you seen the newest _____ movie?” Moves into cabin, sees bunk beds. Brushes teeth, goes to bed homesick

Day two: First full day of camp activities. High ropes course. Camper terrified of heights learns to conquer their fear! Completes the ropes course in screaming in sheer excitement as they zipline across base. Camper goes to bed missing their own room. Writes letter home asking to be picked up.

Days 3 – 5: Camp activities continue. Campers mountain bike, rock climb, and learn how to prepare “trail pizzas” on camp stove. Camper misses home & bed, but mostly wonders what friends at home would think about their new skills.

Day 6: Parent update day. Campers do laundry at laundry mat. This requires them to sort through their dirty clothes, and then folds them when they are done. While waiting, camper writes letter home detailing the amount of dirt accumulated on clothes. Is proud. Groups then go out for ice cream.

Days 7 – 10: Backpacking trip teaches camper to pack and organize, and carry only the “essentials”. Backpack is loaded with personal stuff and group gear. Campers push themselves physically- hiking miles each day. Saw a snake on the trail, hung a food in a tree to prevent bears and critters from getting food, learned to dig “cat holes” before going to the bathroom in the woods, learned how to “spray” toothpaste while brushing teeth. Doesn’t miss video games. Sleeps under the stars.

Day 11: Last full day of camp. Whitewater rafting trip. Campers get soaking wet- take on huge rapids and learn how to paddle as a team, raft guide falls out of boat, all campers squeal in delight. Evening is spent in end-of-course celebration, has dinner out with group. Gets addresses and phone numbers of their new friends. Can’t believe camp is already over, not ready to go home.

Day 12: Camp ends. Camper packs for home. Finds 3 pairs of clean socks- never used. Spends breakfast telling stories with friends talking all about the new stuff they learned. Is happy when parents arrive, but “plays it cool” and shrugs off hugs and kisses. Camp debrief focuses on growth and successes at camp, camper is proud of all they have accomplished. Says good bye to friends and counselors. Begins to tell stories on the way home- already talking about the things he will miss at camp. Asks if he can make his family trail pizzas for dinner tonight. Says he wants to return to camp next year, only next time he wants to stay longer.

Parent Experience:

Day one: Full out sobbing in the car on the way home, begins asking questions like “What have I done? Will he hate me? Will he brush his teeth?” Has trouble sleeping that night- falls asleep in campers bed.

Day two: First full day at home alone. Sits for hours terrified that camper is miserable . Swears they hear camper screaming “Mom” several times, only responds twice. Considers getting in car and picking up camper- decides to wait until morning. Wonders if she packed enough socks?

Days 3 – 5: Spend just 25 minutes cleaning house. Normally, this would take hours. Spends hours watching nothing on tv. Wonders what friends are up to, but assumes they are busy and decides not to call or make plans- will save that for later in the week.

Day 6: Parent update day. Anxiously awaits call from camp director. Call comes at 11:07 am. Reports camper is having a fantastic time, has made friends and completed all camp activities. Reports that groups are currently doing laundry. Parent realizes they haven’t done laundry since camper left.

Days 7 – 10: Decides to clean out and organize car – amazed at number of juice boxes, crushed crackers and Tupperware lids in floor boards. Misses camper like crazy. Sorts through camper’s room to pull out old clothes, continues on to play room in search of toys to donate- leaves behind only the “essentials”. Cleans the bathroom- scraping globs of toothpaste from the floor. Spends hours on Pinterest finding recipes and crafts. Sleeps in camper’s bed, again.

Day 11: Last full day at home alone. Rereads camper letters several times during the day. Convinced camper will still be mad that they were “sent off”. Realizes they never called their friends to visit. Tries to take mind off camper…can’t focus. Goes to grocery store to purchase campers “favorite food” to prepare the perfect dinner tomorrow night. Can’t believe 12 days can feel so long.

Day 12: Camp ends. Departs home- sure camper is going to be so excited to see them. Envisions them running up to the car, like an escaped prisoner. Skips breakfast- to nervous and excited to eat. Arrives at camp, swears camper has grown inches. Slightly confused when camper doesn’t seem thrilled at their arrival. Proud and amazed at the report from counselors. Silently thinks “Really? My child did all that?” Listens intently to stories in car on the way home. (Much different car ride than the one spent in tears after dropping camper off). Gulps at the thought of camper being gone longer next summer.

Parents, does this sound about right? We often focus so much on how a camper will be able to handle camp, that we forget how hard it can be for us sometimes!