May 12, 2023
My 11-year-old son, who will be attending Camp Winaukee for his third summer, has a running tally in his head of how many days until we pass through the main gate. He cannot wait to return to his summer home, his second home, as he so affectionately calls it. And I, as his mom, am just as excited for him to go because I know how incredibly happy and care-free he will be for these upcoming seven weeks. I also know that sending my son to camp for his third summer is very different from sending him for his very first summer, when neither of you know what to expect.
Even though I spent 14 summers at overnight camp myself, I still remember what a ball of angst I was as I gave him one final hug goodbye. All the fears and nerves running through my head as I questioned, would he make friends? Would he be ok if he woke up in the middle of the night? Would he brush his teeth?? Now, having gotten through that first summer, I can confidently say, yes, my son made lifelong friends, and yes, he was ok when he woke up in the middle of the night. He tells me he brushes his teeth, and I know his counselors tell him to brush his teeth, so I will just take him at his word, because at the end of the day, the joy he experienced at camp and the confidence he gained far outweigh any cavities that come down the road.
I have been asked to provide some advice for first-time camp parents, as you send your boys into the unknown. I am no expert by any means, and I recognize that each child is different, with unique quirks, likes and dislikes. However, I hope that my experiences help put your mind at ease because we all know how you feel.
I remember being astounded by the number of shorts, shirts, socks, underwear we were asked to pack on the packing list. And then I saw a day’s worth of pictures online. My son had 4 outfit changes. In one day. At least these are the only ones I saw from the pictures- who knows if there were more. So, yes, follow the packing list to a T.
Packing for overnight camp can be daunting. Those duffels sometimes seem like bottomless pits. The best advice someone gave me was to use packing cubes or very large zip-lok bags to organize and pack clothing.
Even though you are putting name tags on every item of clothing, don’t send anything you won’t miss if somehow it doesn’t make it back at the end of the summer. Also, I always buy inexpensive socks, as they are the first to go in the trash as I unpack in August.
If you have any hope of getting a letter, make it as easy as possible for your son. However, make sure that you put them in a closed container of sorts. When I did this my son’s first summer, all of the envelopes sealed shut due to the humidity, so my son couldn’t use them.
Make a photo book of pictures from home. I made a small album on Shutterfly for my son to take and made sure to show him where it was in his duffle. He told me he really likes this I send it every year.
Send a letter to be there when he arrives on the first day of camp. Do this early to make sure it is there in time.
Postagram or other similar apps are an easy way to send pictures/letters to your son. My son hung some of these up by his bed.
Keep yourself busy! You will hear from someone from camp within a day or so, but then, other than the pictures that get posted each day, it will be radio-silence. You will miss your son and it is easy to sit and wait and worry until you hear from him, but I say make plans- you have new-found freedom. Enjoy! Even though I had one child at home when my older son went to camp, I still felt a little free and lighter. Try to take advantage of the fact that you have one less person to carpool, one less person to feed and one less person’s laundry!
If you get a letter from your son telling you they are homesick, remind yourself that it was written days before, at one specific time when he happened to be feeling sad. It is ok. Someone once told me that a day at camp is like a week in the outside world. Think about what happens in the course of a week- think about the highs and lows. Remind yourself: a) being homesick is ok and b) even though your son was sad in that one moment when he wrote the letter, that does not mean he is sad 24/7. And of course, if you are really concerned, reach out to your son’s Row Leader, Head Counselor or one of the Directors. The Winaukee staff are incredible and always there to address your concerns.
The dreaded picture where your son is not smiling; or off in the distance alone. The fact that camp posts daily pictures is a blessing and a curse as a parent. First, I have to say that I love the fact that the pictures are only posted once a day, in the evening. I can go to work and not have to worry about constantly refreshing to see if new pictures are online. We have all seen the meme where the mom is in front of her computer as she refreshes, refreshes, refreshes. I look forward each night to the pictures, but it is a lot easier to know approximately when they will be online. That being said, I still scrutinize each and every single picture of my son. Who are those other boys? Are they his friends? Whose shirt is he wearing? Why does he have so many mosquito bites? What is he eating? Is he wearing sunscreen? As with the letters you get, remind yourself that these pictures are snapshots of one particular moment in time. And of course, if you are really concerned, reach out to someone at camp. The Winaukee staff are incredible and always there to address your concerns.
It is hard to entrust your son in someone else’s care. No one knows him like you know him. Ashleigh, Poff, Jacko and all of the Winaukee counselors are on your side, and they all want to make sure that your son lives his best life and has the best summer. Keep reminding yourself of this.
It will be quieter at home this summer and you will miss your son. But know that camp is the absolute best gift you can give him - and yourself. It is hard to give up control, to not see him every day, to not talk to him, but when your son comes home a little taller, with this new-found confidence, with new skills, with new friends and with new independence, you will be amazed. Your son will come home singing new songs, and slowly over the course of the year, stories will trickle out about funny things that happened in the bunk or in the dining hall and at the inter-camps. And just like my son, your son will start his own countdown to camp because the next summer can’t come soon enough.