Sam, Nat and I went to camp this summer for the first time! I was in no particular hurry to get my kids to overnight camp but when we were invited by my oldest son’s classmate and his mother, I was tempted.
At 5 days and 4 nights, with an adult-child ratio of about 1:3, our camp is designed for 6 to 9 year olds to have a gentle entry to overnight camp. And it does this for some of their parents too, because it turns out that we can volunteer as counsellors. By doing just this, I also got to bring Natty along, who just turned 5.
I didn’t go to camp as a girl, and was excited (and a little nervous) by the idea that I would be experiencing and learning about it alongside my boys. Did I mention I don’t really like camping? Never mind. Without further ado, here are the top 10 Things I Discovered at Overnight Camp:
1. The dining hall is not for dining.
I have to be honest: I never adjusted to the dining hall experience. The food was unspeakable, truly.
But beyond the reconstituted food powders was the noise. Oh my lordie, the noise. I could possibly bear the incessant singing if it weren’t followed with rounds of screaming. Screaming, my friends, at the top of one’s lungs. We were the youngest unit, sitting next to the 13-15 year olds. I’ll pause a moment for you to imagine. Our little people basically dropped their forks whenever the hollering sounded, which was a lot. It was all but impossible to eat.
2. Bring Metamusil.
Related to the point 1, but deserving its own line.
3. Being a counsellor is serious work.
I thought that being an inexperienced volunteer counsellor would mean a couple of hours in the craft room, maybe a morning in the kitchen. Um, no. A counsellor is with her unit 24/7 for five days. I was… surprised.
4. Fake it ’til you make it.
The camp we attended struck me as an extroverted dream. You are surrounded by lots of people who want to get to know you, have instantaneous friends, and are never alone. You sing and yell and be merry. This version of heaven is not mine. One of my favourite times at camp was stealing away from the group because Nat needed a nap, and I got to read for an hour in a quiet tent while he slept. But the rest of the time, even when I would have preferred to be alone, I pretended that I didn’t. I sang and danced and air pumped with the best of them, and I had a good time.
5. Girls are lovely.
Camp rules mean that female counsellors sleep in the girls’ tents and male counsellors sleep in the boys’ tents. My tent housed four 7 to 9 year old girls. I have three sons, and don’t spend much time with girls, and I think about this hardly at all.
But I discovered from my little tent-mates that girls are lovely. They’re pretty and quiet(er) and don’t bounce around very much. They talk easily and their colourful bathing suits have two pieces. One of them asked me to braid her hair and chatted about her family life while I did it. I miss them a little.
6. Being at camp is hard.
Each of the four girls in my tent ran amok and laughed and cheered during the day; each was homesick at night. Two slept with their flashlights on through the night; two wept; one tried not to and had an earache at midnight instead.
7. Leaving camp is hard.
Sam wouldn’t join the receiving line for saying goodbye at camp. When we got home, and his Lego structure broke and hit his toe, the full weight of leaving camp fell: he said that “all the fun is gone, there’s no fun left.” I held him through that and the next morning until we re-adjusted to being home. Kids feel post-party just like adults do.
8. Sleep is for wimps.
There are a number of factors working against sleep at camp.
a) The children, both those in your own tent and those in neighbouring tents. They will talk, get homesick, want and need (not the same thing) to pee (in the toilets, which are like a mile away), and cough.
b) The sounds of the night. Anyone who waxes on about quiet country nights is forgetting the bullfrogs, the loons (so, so beautiful), the animals (coyote?) who stalk and eat at night, and the rain.
c) Your own self. On the one night that the girls in my tent actually slept, I had a nightmare that they needed something and sprung up in bed asking, “Are you okay? What do you need?” My co-counsellor could have done without this.
9. A good frog is worth 100 iPads.
Forever and ever, amen.
10. It’s good to be kind to kids.
The children’s well-being and happiness was the number one priority at camp, which was essentially a 5 day immersion on kindness to kids. Most of us could benefit from this once in awhile and be reminded not to let the frustrations of the day reign – I know I could. I think I brought home from camp a little more patience and a little more cheer for my little guys, and for this alone it was more than worth it.