I never went to summer camp as a child. Back in the early 70s, when I was growing up, you went outside to play, hoping that one of the thirty or so other kids on your block was up and awake and had already eaten their Cap’n Crunch or Lucky Charms and was just waiting for a chance to start a game of baseball in the street or do one of the other things we did a long, long time ago. Back then, your parents didn’t know where you were all the time and they were never nervous. They knew that you’d always return when you were hungry and that you were running in a pack. Stranger danger wasn’t a thing and everyone knew that as soon as the first street light came on, the day was over.
So, it was a surprise to me when several years ago my oldest daughter asked to go to sleep away camp and then a few years later, when her younger brother expressed an interest in going, too. We are now parents who send their kids to sleep away camp, something I never thought I would say. Child #1 aged out (she’s in college now, it’s own form of sleep away camp) but child #2 continues to go for a month every summer and I have to say: I’m a convert. No electronics, living among new people, structuring your days to make the most of your stay—these are all components of the sleep away camp experience and while I long for the days mentioned above, camp definitely has its merits.
I have friends who went to camp from the age of six until they were fourteen, spending eight weeks in the camp environment, doing things that only other campers have experienced—bon fires, “color wars,” sing-alongs—things that are mostly unfamiliar to us non-campers. A friend of mine has parents who met at sleep away camp and who have been together for sixty years. Another friend can name the first girl he ever had a crush on and can reminisce for hours about his time at the only camp he ever attended, a place in Pennsylvania that still holds a special place in his heart. Although I grew up with enough kids to constitute our own summer camp, our experiences were limited to those we could do in our small town (a hamlet, really) and with each other, people we saw every single day of every single year because we rode the school bus together, sat beside each other in the school cafeteria, attended the same church. When I hear the stories of sleep away camp, from both friends and my children, I wonder how the teenaged me would have adapted to a new environment in the woods with a group of people she had never met.
I’d love to hear your stories. Did you go to sleep away camp or did you grow up like I did, playing with the kids in the neighborhood? What is your favorite camp memory?