I recently had the opportunity to work as a nurse at a sleepaway summer camp 7 hours away from New Orleans. I’d never been to sleepaway camp as a child and could not imagine sending my 6-year-old and 8-year-old boys away for 2 weeks. However, I knew I wanted to provide my kids with this experience, and my being a part of it would ease everyone’s mind. I went up the day before the kids, and my mind was blown. I had no idea how they would handle what was to come.
The Daily Schedule
From ropes courses to horseback riding to watersports, there were so many activities! My kids would have to make their daily schedules. How would they know what they wanted to do? Would they make sure to try everything once instead of falling in love with one activity and monopolizing their time with only their favorites? I wanted them to get the most from this experience. They were responsible for navigating a vast landscape and for being in specific locations at certain times. My kids barely cross the street, so I had no idea how they’d manage their daily schedule.
And yet, they dove in and adapted. They found everything to be a fun, novel experience. The opportunities camp provided are unmatched. I’m totally in awe of all they got to experience while also learning about prioritization and planning.
Kids Raising Kids
This was one of the most concerning aspects for me. My kids would be under the care of college-age counselors 24/7. Twelve kids, 3 counselors, 1 cabin. For 14 days. There was no chance these kids would be able to stay organized. What about wet swimsuits and towels? Who was going to make sure those items hung neatly out to dry? What about bug spray and sunscreen? If left up to my boys, they’d never touch the stuff.
So yeah, I was right about this one. Their trunks came back a hot, stinky mess. My kids walked around camp wearing mismatched clothes and no socks because they “couldn’t find any.” What I didn’t expect? How these counselors would become role models to my children. How they would lead by example and discipline with love to make sure my kids had the time of their lives. They weren’t the cleanest — who knows what went on inside that cabin — but my kids were loved. I watched college guys sing and dance and climb rock walls and comfort homesick kids. It was inspiring to see such positive, energetic young people caring for these campers. These counselors will be part of my boys’ fondest memories.
My oldest can be pretty reserved. Would he come out of his shell enough to make friends? Would he feel left out compared to his cabin mates who’d been to camp before? I worried about him not knowing the camp culture or routines. He can get discouraged when things don’t come easily to him. How would he handle this pressure?
On the first day, it was hard for me to watch my son standing totally still while seemingly everyone else was excitedly singing and dancing. However, by the third day, my shy boy, face covered in war paint, was jumping on the lunch table screaming and waving his arms leading the chow hall in a favorite camp chant. Later in the week, a little boy introduced himself to me as my son’s best friend. He explained that he was on the bottom bunk and that he’d climbed up to help my son make his bed and set up his bookshelf. He then led my son to the camp store to teach him about the process of buying the famous soft serve ice cream. They’d been inseparable ever since. I had to clench my jaw to hold back tears of thanksgiving for this little boy who took my baby under his wing. I’m grateful my son found true friendship and learned to lean on others for support.
Though I was so uncertain about what to expect, now I can’t imagine this not being a part of their summers for years to come. My boys transformed. Or maybe they were always self-sufficient and adaptable, I don’t know. What I do know is that this was the opportunity of a lifetime for them, and I’m blessed to have been able to witness it. If you’re on the fence about sleepaway camp, this is your sign. Send the kids.
I signed my oldest son (age 10) up for his first sleep away camp for this summer and I’m a nervous wreck but reading your story eased my anxieties… A little! 😊