Had someone told me that I would be a camp director, I never would have believed it. I would have had difficulty imagining such an incredible job with its Peter Pan like existence. The counselors aren’t exactly the “lost boys,” but living for 25 years among college students and campers does lead to a prolonged adolescence. The real reason I never would have foreseen a life at camp is that I was a homesick kid!
My first summer at a two week camp in Alabama, I wrote my mom a letter and told her that if she didn’t pick me up by Tuesday (letter was written on Friday) that I was going to hitch-hike home. I’m sure that mom spent some sleepless nights and even warmed up the car engine, but by the time she got the letter, called the director and the director checked in on me, I had forgotten my threat! I was actually starting to have fun, and when I realized the director knew my name, things were looking up.
As a teen-ager I continued going to camp for 5 weeks every summer. I remember the rest hour blues and rainy days when nothing felt familiar. And I remember getting tearful when we’d sing “You Are My Sunshine” or “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” One time on a camp trip, I sneaked to a payphone to call home. When I heard mom’s voice, the emotion surprised me and I burst into tears. When I went off to college, I would wake up in my bleak concrete block dorm wishing I were in my bedroom at home. But at that point, I knew that I could love a place and still miss home. I knew that the pit in my stomach wasn’t going to kill me and that it would go away when the sun came out or when I moved on to the next activity.
Over the years I’ve shared my experience as I’ve talked with many girls who’ve missed home or worried that they couldn’t finish the camp session. Some just need a hug and a good cry. Others need a firmly written and encouraging letter from mom and dad. There are some campers who needed daily encouragement throughout their session at camp, and then years later would send me a postcard from China or South Africa where they were exchange students or studying abroad. I like to think that struggling through a camp session gave them the “muscle” needed to take on adventures when they called their name.
It’s normal to miss home, family and all that is familiar when away from camp. A big part of the camp experience is the growth that comes from that opportunity. Clinical psychologist and school consultant, Michael Thompson, wrote a great book Homesick and Happy. A proponent of summer camp, Thompson describes many experiences in which the camp setting allows the opportunity for growth when experiencing time away from parents. He also offers many suggestions for parents to help them prepare their child (and themselves) for the camp experience. I encourage you to check it out! Meanwhile, we are looking forward to helping next summer’s campers grow in confidence they experience the BEST SUMMER EVER!