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The Summer Camp Blues

I always found the search for camps stressful. With two girls seven years apart, it was a work in progress at best to meet both their needs for their ages. Not to mention getting them to their respective camps and getting to work. When my oldest, Paige, was an only child, I will admit, it was easier. We put her in art camp, zoo camp and writing camp. Then Grace came along, and eventually I had to find something for both of them or, at least, camps that were relatively close to one another. It wasn’t always perfect.  But I will tell you what we learned.

Grace’s first camp was at Roland Park Country School. It was set up for young kids like her, and it was a great experience. Families also could choose their weeks. Grace went on field trips, and lunch was sometimes included. While she was there, Paige went to drama camp not too far away, and my friend, Toni, also sent her daughter to that same camp, which allowed us (thank goodness!) to share the drop-off and pickup duties. (If you can get your friends to opt into the same camps, it helps a lot.) It also was lovely because after camp ended for the day, our girls were able to practice together for the play they would eventually participate in at the end of the session.

When Grace was about 6, I felt she was ready to take the bus to camp. I would drop both girls off at the corner, and they would take the bus together and come home together. No driving for me, and I did not have to make lunch! However, I did have to hear their dramatic complaints about how hot it was outside and how they almost died of heat stroke.

This is to be expected, parents. In this instance, don’t let their performances persuade you to believe they don’t like camp. Just like school, camp requires parents to pay attention. That means read the notes that come home and know the schedule. I was pretty bad at that, I have to confess. When Grace was at the McDonogh Camps, horseback riding was an activity, and she needed a heeled shoe to ride the horses.

The night before horseback riding, she reminded me that she needed such shoes. On a work night, that was impossible for me to find. She was a size 7 or 7½ then, so I decided that she could just wear my size 8 cowboy boots. It seemed like the heels were 1½ inches.

In reality, I think they were a bit higher. Today, we laugh about it, but when she came home that day, she was not a happy camper after having to walk clear across campus in those boots. She told me she was exhausted just getting there. Yeah, I guess she was.

When Grace was about 9, I scheduled a last-minute trip to California to visit my good friend, Marilyn. I took Paige with me, so I had to find a week-long camp for Grace. The only one I could find was a badminton camp. When I returned home, she told me she had the worst time.

“Camp was sad,” she explains now. “I was thrown into something I didn’t know how to do or necessarily want to do, with people who were very different from me.” Grace, who was the only African-American in the camp, had little badminton experience, which is partly what camp is supposed to be about — learning something new. But the other girls were more skilled, and that was off-putting to my child. She felt the loneliness of an outsider.

“I had to be my own friend and figure out how to get through the experience,” she says.

Somehow my elementary schooler decided the right thing to do was not to complain, but to do her best to get through the week. And this is what she did. She showed up for camp, she tried her best, and by the end of the week, she didn’t have any new friends, and she wasn’t a badminton champ or even a bigger fan of the sport. But none of this bothered her anymore. She had survived the week, and that was enough for her.

My now-college student still says this was the “worst” camp she ever attended. But she also says badminton camp gave her the courage to try new things, to “dive into experiences I have no business being in.”

“For example, I study science,” Grace says, “but somehow I am in Italy, studying Italian language and art history. Has it been difficult? Yes. But now I know so much more about myself and about Italy than if I hadn’t done this.”

Sometimes, it is important to let your child go through with an experience, even when it’s hard, my daughter says.

“If they always have a way out, they  won’t grow.”That’s true for us as parents. Good luck finding the right camps for your children this summer. But know that whatever you choose can be a good experience for them, even if it’s not in the way you expect.

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