Lessons From Camp

  • Last month my husband and I dropped our oldest son Ryan off for his Freshman year at Washington University in St. Louis. Our goodbye reminded me of the first time I left him at summer camp. He couldn’t wait for me to leave, but I couldn’t help but stretch out the goodbye, finding one more drawer to organize, one more thing to remind him to do. As I boarded the plane to return to Boston, I tried (unsuccessfully) to hide my tears. Why did he have to choose a school 1500 miles away from me? What did I do wrong that my son was so comfortable being left in a strange place with people he did not know? Wiping away my tears, my husband comforted me. “It is not what we did wrong,” he said. “It is what we did right. We sent him to overnight camp.”

    Spending seven summers at Camp Tevya, an overnight camp in New Hampshire, had well prepared him for the transition to college. We might have given him wings, but camp taught him to fly. And fly he did…1500 miles away! While I wish he would not have gone so far, I left him at school knowing that he had learned the life skills to be successful at college. I know he learned the following things at camp:

    1. To share space: After spending this summer as a counselor living in a bunk, his dorm room seemed huge. At camp he shared space with 15 other boys, and now 1/2 of this room was his! He already knew how to respect the space of others and the importance of keeping his own area clean. Although the thought did cross my mind to ask the RA to do daily clean-up inspections and give him a popsicle if he got a 10 on inspection, I restrained myself. Waiting his turn for a shower, no problem.

    2. Independence: Each summer he came home a little taller, a little more confident and a great deal more independent. At 9 years old, he knew how to follow a schedule, how to ask for help and how to clean a bathroom (although he had difficulty transferring this skill to home!). And he did these things everyday without me hovering over him. At home, we designed a calender with pictures of each day’s activities. At camp he knew to wear his swimsuit to first period tennis because he had waterskiing second period. He did this because that is what you do at camp, and not because I had laid his swim suit out the night before.

    3. Problem Solving Skills: Each day our children face problems, some small, like leaving your lunch at home, and some more significant, like having your old best friend find a new best friend. If it was up to me, I would have just fixed Ryan’s problems. Yes, I was one of those parents who ran my children’s lunch or homework to school on a regular basis. I thought it was my job as a mother to get all of the hurdles out of the way so life would be easy. At camp, instead of having someone move the hurdles out of the way, Ryan gained the confidence to jump over the hurdles himself. He was guided through solving problems by role models, who at 8 years older than him, were like superheros. They taught him to confront his problems and to advocate for himself.

    4. The importance of community: When Ryan started camp, he did not yet know the boys that would soon become the most important people in the world to him (other than us, of course). Through the years, he grew to truly understand the importance of being a community. He learned that others counted on him, and needed him. He learned the values of a strong community: respect, support and celebrating diversity. Leaving him in the dorm with people he did not know, without a friend to lean on, was a little scary for me. But not for him, he couldn’t wait to re-create the sense of community that he grew to love at camp.

    We are going to St. Louis next week for Parent’s Weekend. I feel the same excitement that I did each summer before visiting day, and my bag is packed with presents that I am certain my son can’t live without. Although in my heart I know he already has everything he needs…he went to overnight camp.

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