Remember that classic?
Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda
Here I am at Camp Granada
Camp is very entertaining
And they say we’ll have some fun if it stops raining.
I went to a week-long sleep-away church camp for the first time when I was nine, and my father sang that song to me the WHOLE WEEK before I left. Talk about raising expectations.
In retrospect, I still don’t know whether nine was too young to go or not. I think my parents only OK’d it because my cousin was going to be my counsellor, so they assumed I’d be in good hands. But in order to be in Jackie’s cabin, I had to share the cabin with Big Girls of 11 or 12. I felt very young and foolish, though never as young or as foolish as the night I lay in my bunk, scared to get up and go to the outhouse in the dark, then ran for it when I couldn’t hold it anymore and didn’t make it in time. Oh my.
My mother also required that I learn to peel an orange for myself before leaving for camp, on the grounds that I wouldn’t want to be the only one there who couldn’t peel an orange. On the first morning we got oranges for breakfast and every one of those big girls in my cabin handed their oranges to Jackie to peel — except me. It didn’t make up for peeing on the floor, but it did give me a sense of accomplishment.
Over the years I went to camp every summer and have many good (and bad) memories, but the only two things I remember about that first year are the peeing and the peeling.
Back in the day when I was young, a week of church camp was pretty much it. We didn’t have any all-summer-long camps here in Newfoundland (if we did, I’d like to think my parents wouldn’t have banished me to camp for the whole summer … I think they would have missed me). And at the time I’d never heard of the phenomenon of “day camps.”
Welcome to summer 2008. If you are a parent of school-aged children in St. John’s today, your camp options — both overnight and day-camp — are so numerous and varied you probably need a special university course in sorting through and choosing what to do.
Of course, these camps — particularly the day camps — cater primarily to families where both parents are working and, when school closes, there’s no place for the kids to go all day. People do what they have to do and it probably works well for some kids, but I am not a big fan for putting your kid in day camp for eight weeks. When I see the groups of kids with their counsellors from the really big and popular day camps around here, I feel sorry for the kids — not that the organizers and counsellors aren’t doing their best to ensure the kids have a good time, but it just seems like so much scheduling and structure after enduring a whole year of that in school.
I think if I needed childcare over the summer, I’d try to hire a babysitter to come to the house rather than scheduling several weeks of day camp. I believe kids need a lot of down-time, just hangin’ out and relaxing time, over the summer holidays. But I realize not everyone has the same options and, particularly, not everyone has the luxury I do — a job that gives me the same holidays as my kids. That way, all their hangin’ out and relaxing time is with ME! ME! ME! Or whatever friends we can lure over to the house, as we don’t live in a neighbourhood where there are a lot of playmates a couple of doors away.
Even though I’m off all summer, this year we have looked at the camp options for the first time ever. Since we weren’t going on a family summer vacation, we were looking at two full months of hangin’ out and relaxing and I thought that might tax even my planning abilities, not to mention our patience with each other. Plus, the kids have lots of interests and things they like to do and learn, and with such a dizzying array of camp options on offer, I thought a week of day camp each (preferably half-days) would break up the summer routine nicely.
Enter the personality differences of my two children. They are very similar in many ways, apart from looking like bookends: they are both bright, talkative, strong-willed, funny, and more interested in words and music than in sports. However, they have a basic difference in their outlook. When the question starts “Would you like to …?” Emma will, 90% of the time, answer “YES!” no matter what comes after the “…” Whereas Christopher will say “NO!” without even waiting to hear what comes next.
The author of Raising Your Spirited Child calls what Christopher has “negative first reaction.” It means that when presented with a new situation, his immediate response is always to retreat rather than advance. If you think this is just a pop-psychology term dreamed up to make parents feel better about their cranky kids, think about your workplace. Think about the person from whom, if you present a new idea for a project, you will always get the response, “I don’t think that will work.” That person may, in the end, come around and may even be the one who finds the way to make the project work despite the obstacles s/he has foreseen before anyone else. (Or, s/he may sit in his/her office crabbing about you and your stupid idea. It all depends, I guess, on how well s/he learned to handle that Negative First Reaction thing as a child).
Anyway, whatever it is, Chris has it by the bucketload, which is why when I first broached the idea of a week of day camp in the summer, Emma said, “Yes! Oh yes!!” and Chris said “NO WAY!!!”
With Emma, the only problem was sorting out what she wanted to do. Art camp? YES! Fashion designer camp? YES!! Science and tech camp? YES!!! Music camp? YES!!!! Drama camp? YES!!!!! Actually, come to think of it, she probably would be FINE with eight weeks of different camps while Mom worked all summer (while Christopher would curl up in a ball under the back porch and refuse to ever come out, I guess).
One option stood out above all others for Emma though: Circus Camp. We are big fans of the Wonderbolt Circus and when she learned, months ago, that they operate a week-long summer camp to teach kids circus skills, she was determined her summer would include a week of circus training. So for Emma it was just a matter of booking circus camp in time, and then counting down the days till it started. (She may, in fact, get to do another camp week later in the summer, but I’m holding that in reserve as a reward while we deal with a couple of little behavior problems).
Chris’s first option was the very same sleep-away church camp that I went to thirty-odd years ago, this being the first year he was eligible for that. I suggested that, but he put his foot down, and I didn’t try to persuade him. I’m not really ready for him to spend a week away from home yet, and I’d only consider it if he was DYING to go, which he certainly is not. I did ask, though, when he had to be pried away from climbing trees with his friend Isaiah after our Pathfinder campout weekend in June: “Why don’t you want to come to junior camp here? It’s the same place and the same people you’ve been enjoying all weekend.”
“Mom,” he explained patiently, “they have RULES at junior camp. You have to be places on time, and do activities. I’d go if I could do what I wanted all day, and the only rule was you had to go to bed at night.”
Well, there you have it in the shell of a nut. Because, besides Negative First Reaction, Christopher has a deep-seated horror of rules and structure. Emma’s never happier than when she has a schedule of activities planned, whereas Christopher’s ideal day simply drifts without shape or form, dictated by nothing but his own whims. Which makes choosing a day camp sort of … challenging.
However, local museum The Rooms offered something I knew he’d go for — and he did, with great enthusiasm — a week-long Animation Camp. He’s always been very interested in learning to do animation, so I rightly guessed this suggestion would be a hit.
Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones who thought it was a hit. No sooner had I got Chris’s go-ahead to register him for animation camp, than I found out it was already filled. “Fine,” he said, “I won’t do any camp at all.” I kept looking for options that would tantalize him.
He is a bit of a techy and a Lego freak, so my next try was FutureTECS camp, where they do fun science and tech projects like making Lego robots. (Later I found out another organization had a whole week-long camp devoted JUST to Lego robotics, but by then it was too late — see what I mean about the organizational skills needed to figure this all out?) Chris had his doubts about FurtureTECS and several times said he didn’t want to go, but finally swung round to saying he’d give it a try. It’s a full-day camp and I promised him he could come home for lunch every day rather than staying in (staying in for lunch is one of the things he hates abot school), and could have the option to stay home for the afternoon if he preferred.
So, it’s Wednesday and we’re halfway through Camp Week. Circus Camp has totally lived up to Emma’s expectations and she comes out every lunchtime (hers is mornings-only) bubbling about the WONDERFUL things she’s learned and how she can’t wait to show us her skills at the final show on Friday!!!!
Christopher is far less bubbly and exuberant, but he says he’s enjoyed every activity, and each lunchtime he elects to go back for the afternoon. And I have a couple of hours to myself every morning.
So I think we can say that Camp Week 2008 is a success!