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...

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