Monday, August 31, 2015

Summer Camp Wrap Up

Earlier this summer, we shipped the Grape to camp for two weeks.

He would've stayed longer, but the camp books up in the dead of winter, and R. and I weren't going to pony up for more than the minimum stay, before we determined whether our cab-hailing, museum-frequenting kid did well in the wild.

Or the water. (The thing that first caught my eye about this place was the fact that the kids swam twice a day, every day.)

We wanted something out in the country, where he could swim and tramp through the woods—an old timey, totally unplugged camp experience, the kind of place where "indoors" means a covered porch. 

He was five, we couldn't very well send him to the woods of Northern New England armed with some stationery, a can of bug spray, and two dozen pairs of underpants with his name scrawled  inside the waistbands.

This meant taking a bus some twenty miles west of the city.

"It's a reverse commute," R. and I assured ourselves. "There are three adults on the bus. He'll be fine."

Making the bus meant leaving the house with a lot of gear, as well as a camp nurse approved lunch, no later than 7:10 a.m.

In a few short days after school ended, the Grape had become accustomed to sleeping until almost nine. I had to drag his sleeping body out of the bunk every morning.

It was a lot like trying to haul a fifty pound suitcase from an overhead bin, while standing on a ladder.

We would run, frantic, through the park and up the street and past the laundromat, exactly like the folks in the Mo Willems picture book Knuffle Bunny, only with a greater degree of urgency, because if we missed the bus, I'd be in for hours of driving, and part of the point of this exercise was to secure a block of time to finish my third novel.
Note the utter lack of urgency on the part of the Grape on his way to the bus.

I'm proud to report we never missed that bus.

But all this did happen:

He almost capsized under the weight of his backpack the first day.

When the dad who caught him mid-fall suggested I hang a counterweight on his front, I decided to nix the sweatshirt and sweatpants.

The first two afternoons, he came home with both his pants and underwear on backwards.

One of the moms at the bus stop told me that was very good. She explained that her kid wore his wet bathing suit all day, because he didn't want to change clothes. This particular child was signed up for eight weeks.  I saw a lot of Desitin in their future.

On the third day, the Grape wore his swimsuit home, having lost three full changes of clothes, who knows where.

My repeated inquiries as to the location of his clothes and other swimsuit were met with an indignant, "It's not a cubby. It's a crate!" As if that was somehow the crux of the matter.

I think that was the same day he earned an award in tennis, and I didn't believe him, because his school P.E. teachers claim he possesses zero hand-eye coordination.

Moments after he convinced me of its probable existence, the Grape discovered the tennis award had gone missing on the afternoon bus.

He nearly lost his mind.

I had to call the camp and have the person in charge assure the Grape that he would be reunited with his ten-cent pin major achievement award.

I know, I know. They need to learn to deal with disappointment, but maybe not at the same moment I'm about to receive foreign house guests.

While I had the director of the little kids' section on the phone, I asked if the camp might launch a search for the Grape's three sets of lost clothes.

"No problem," she said.

They sent him home on day four bearing two huge plastic bags, full of the belongings of other children in his group (an assortment including a wet towel, a thermos, and a pair of brand new shoes).

We continued in this fashion for the duration of the camp session. Exasperating? Mildly.

Ultimately the little hassles didn't matter, because the Grape had the time of his life.

The camp issued a shirt to be worn the first day. The Grape wanted to wear it every morning, because he was so thrilled and proud to be going to camp.  Who wouldn't be? The place was a slice of kid heaven. He learned to swim (HURRAY!).  He made new friends. He went boating. He climbed a rock wall. He even caught a fish.
The Grape with his "lucky" rod and a perch (?). I suspect the campers have been catching and releasing the same fish for years.

So I washed the shirt every night, and promised to sign him up for next year, even though the 7:15 to 4:30 absence every day had started to feel really long (to me—he was fine).

He'll be a year older. By then I'm hopeful he'll remember that the flap belongs on the front of the underwear.

And if he doesn't, who cares?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Whys of Summer Camp

Mama guilt drove me to do it.

As a kid, I spent my early summers outdoors.

We were either  on the beach in Rhode Island, or in the woods behind our house, or at my mother's family's cabin, near Lake Saimaa in Finland.

It was rustic. There was (and still is) an outhouse involved, and a well, where we kept things like milk cold in a bucket at the end of a long rope, because nobody wanted to mess with a gas refrigerator.

We foraged for berries and mushrooms, and out grandfather set traps for lake fish, because that's what good Finns do in the summer.

The road to the cabin featured boulders and compact car sized pits. If we had too many people piled into the car, a 1970 Skoda, it would get stuck.

So my brother and I (and any visiting children past toddling age) were kicked out to navigate the last mile or two on foot.

"Beware of moose! And poisonous vipers!"my grandmother would admonish, as we clomped away in our rubber boots, stamped "Made by Nokia in Finland" on the insides.

My brother and I ran semi-wild, our feet always dirty, and our bodies always smelling faintly of pond water or salt or Noxzema, or some combination thereof. Many days, our swimsuits never dried.

The Grape has none of this.

Sure, being a city kid has its perks. He can hail a cab, and he handily navigates the neighborhood at rush hour on his bike. He's been to the symphony and various museums. He frequents playgrounds that would've blown my mind when I was his age, when I was easily impressed by a single swing hung from a tree limb. He can explain how to get from Point A to Point B on the subway, even if it involves changing lines. He sees and hears a diverse range of people every day.

But one day last fall, after a soaking rainstorm, the trees on our street hung low.

The Grape said, "It's just like the woods."

Except it wasn't. These trees were in evenly spaced planting squares, and our feet were on the pavement.

I hit the Internet and signed my city boy up for the campiest day camp I could find within a semi-reasonable driving radius of our home.

I wanted the Grape to swim, and go boating, and tramp through the woods, and hang out outdoors all day, as far from a screen or a classroom as practicable.

We went to an open house. It poured that day. The Grape wailed in the backseat that I was the meanest mother ever, and he could not believe I was doing this to him. "How can you just send me away with strangers in the middle of nowhere? What kind of mother are you?"

He carried on as if I was about to abandon him forever in some Deliverance town.

R. and I reassured him that we signed him up for the minimum time, two weeks. He could do anything for two weeks. Nine days, really.

The Grape turned his gaze towards the heavens, or at least at the roof of the car, as if wondering how he received such clueless twits for parents.

We pulled into the camp. The Grape saw the beach and the boats and the rock wall and the tidy rows of tents.

His eyes boggled.

"I get to go here?"

R. and I exhaled. The place felt magical, like a throwback to an unplugged time, even in the rain.
A slice of kid heaven in Sudbury, Massachusetts, even in a downpour.

We took the now bouncing, smiling Grape on the tour.

A little girl in our group asked the guide, a college age counselor, "Why is that pile of rocks over there?"

The counselor looked confused for a moment.

"It's nature," he said.

"Not art?" the little girl pressed.

"Nature," our guide said, more firmly.

R. and I exchanged a glance: we were definitely doing the right thing.

Or were we? It was twenty miles away. There was a bus to contend with, and we didn't have the most stellar experience with school buses last fall. There were so many belongings to organize, and the Grape's backpack nearly outweighed him.

I didn't sleep a wink the night before his first day. What if he got bullied on the bus? Was he too little? Were we crazy to ship him so far away? What if he lost his lunch? What if he didn't make any friends?

And in the darkest hours of the morning: GAH! What if he drowns?

I did what any reasonable Mama in my position would do: I flipped on the lamp and woke up R.


"He won't drown. These people know what they're doing."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. They would be out of business if they drowned people's kids. Now go the f--- to sleep. You need to get up and make the nut-free lunch in two hours."

Next post: How it worked out...