My husband and I just picked up our big boys (9-year old twins) after their first week at overnight camp. For my campers it was six days of no little siblings, no parents. For me, it was six long days, wondering what my kids are doing, if they actually woke up in time for breakfast, if they showered and if mold would be growing on their teeth at week’s end. Overnight camp is a childhood rite of passage and what summer memories are made of. And while I was sure they’d survive the experience, I wondered how much of what I’d taught them in the past nine years actually took root and would be evidenced in their self-directed camp behavior.
Our conversation on the hour-long car ride home answered my questions. Here’s what I learned:
Upon arriving at campus, my husband and I went directly to the boys’ dorm (the camp was held at a private collage). Despite the fact that each boy was given a key to their shared room six days earlier, we found their abode unlocked. So naturally we let our nosey selves in. The scene that greeted us was straight out of Animal House sans the adult drinks. The bed sheets were on the floor, dirty clothes were strewn all over the room, drawers where half open and empty lemonade bottles graced most visible flat surfaces. The state of their dorm put their bedroom to shame on its worst day. My husband and I burst out laughing the minute we saw it and snapped some quick iPhone pics. Priceless.
At home, the boys have been taught to shower at least every second day, and every day they have sports practice or play so hard they sweat. Despite the fact that camp “rules” require daily showers, one showered three days out of the six and the other only once. Apparently there were “24 hour” long lines for the showers (yes, my boys aren’t lacking in the drama department) and they couldn’t be bothered to wait.
I packed their bags so they’d each have a full change of clothes each day. While they claimed they wore new outfits every morning, the number of folded and matched shorts and t-shirts remaining in their dresser told a different story. And the pile of clean underwear suggested that the ones they were currently wearing may indeed start steaming while standing up on their own when taken off. Yep, hygiene just isn’t on the priority list when you’re nine.
On Meal Time
This is one area that I was genuinely concerned about, especially for my oldest (by one minute – which, let me be clear, matters). I tease that he eats a variety of five things. While in actuality he eats more than that, I can count on one hand the varieties of fruit and veggies he begrudgingly eats when forced during our nightly family dinners. Before camp, I kindly suggested that he eat at least a few apples to keep himself, well, regular over the course of the week. When I asked what he chose during mealtimes, the list revealed everything brown: bread, meat, pancakes, cinnamon rolls and chips (notice five things made the list). Immediately after this report, he gave me a know-it-all grin and said, “And I even pooped.”
On What Matters
Upon picking them up, they looked totally disheveled and full of joy. Several day-old bed head crowned each of their noggins (Noah’s longer hair was close to dreads, I swear). While the bags under their eyes would normally be accompanied with fouls moods, they were all grins from ear to ear. I asked each to rate their maiden camp experience from 1-10, and I received a resounding 10 from both. That’s what matters.
I gave them several different camp experiences to choose from and they chose the one that’s a balance of daily academic study and traditional camp lore. They said they wanted to be around smart kids, kids who were smarter than them so they would be motivated to work hard. They said it was hard, and that they loved it. They tapped into intrinsic motivation and persevered despite challenges. That’s what matters.
Walking with the boys through campus closing day, they waved to new friends and exchanged inside jokes with their counselors. It was clear to my husband and I that they successfully navigated the social canvas of this new experience. They got to know kids with backgrounds different than their own who opened my boys’ minds to new realities. They stepped outside of their comfort zone and discovered alternative perspectives. That’s what matters.
They say they’ll go again next year. Once again, I’m sure I’ll cry when dropping them off and experience a love-hate relationship with their absence for six whole days. And during those days they’ll learn about what they are capable of both inside and outside of the classroom. And they’ll teach me that they are growing up fast, and that we are doing a pretty darn good job preparing them for this big bad world … stinky pits, dirty underwear and all.