Exactly a year ago, I was a hysterical mess (more than normal, I mean). Ruby was headed off for two weeks of sleep-away camp at Camp Point Clear, and I was channeling all of my anxiety into buying exactly the right kind of stationery and lecturing her about the importance of at least trying to comb out the knots in her hair without me there to do it. Ruby, for her part, played it cool until the second-to-last day before we left, when she had a huge temper tantrum about something inconsequential and then broke down sobbing about how scared she was.
Well, this year, she’s going for three weeks, and she and I have some tips to offer first-time campers and their parents.
- It’s true that you need to label everything … but you don’t have to go crazy with fancy labels. Last year, I bought the deluxe camp label package online, and it was great but pricey, and ultimately, it didn’t matter that her labels had a color scheme or a specially chosen font. This time around, I just ordered Avery peel-and-stick laundry-safe labels, and Ruby is writing her own name on them with a marker. If we run out of them, I’m just using a Sharpie directly on the clothes. The clothes get dirty anyway. (Oh, yeah, don’t buy or send expensive clothes!)
- There are a lot of things that you buy for the first summer that you won’t use throughout the year but can use again for subsequent summers. Yes, they’ll outgrown things like water shoes or bathing suits, but over-the-door shoe pockets (which they use for general storage), tennis racquets, and shower caddies hold up. The only problem is that, if you’re like me, you’ll end up the week before the second go-round of camp searching frantically for them because they might be in the attic or they might be in the closet in the girls’ room or they might be mixed in with all the other sports equipment in the laundry room storage hutch. So here’s my advice that I didn’t follow but plan to do in the future: Keep all useful-for-camp-only items in the camp trunk. That way it all stays together, and you don’t end up buying another tennis racquet on Amazon and then cursing when you find the old tennis racquet the very next day. I mean, just hypothetically.
- Don’t stress about letters. The camp staff will tell you if anything is really wrong, so in the absence of that, you just have to assume that your kid is having too much fun to write to you. I didn’t get letters from Ruby for a full week, and I was about to lose my mind when suddenly I got a huge chunk of them with a note that said, “I forgot lost your address and couldn’t send these until I found it again. It was in my slipper.” She knows our address now, but if your kid still doesn’t, I might suggest pre-addressing and pre-stamping the envelopes. Also, after that initial flurry of backlogged letters, I got only one more – a postcard that said simply, “Dear Mom, I am alive. Love, Ruby.” And that was only in response to an email I sent her that said, “Please at least write and tell me you’re alive.”
- Your kid will surprise you. I lay awake worrying about sunburns, bee stings, hair snarls. I swore I could sense cavities forming on her unbrushed teeth. But when she came home to me, she was in remarkably good shape. She’d handled her own hygiene and safety issues for two weeks and was intensely proud of herself for doing so. She matured so much in those two weeks.
- You’re going to cry. I held it together during the dropoff, but then I pulled over on some winding country road in northern Alabama and sobbed like my heart was breaking. I cried off and on the whole way home and a few times while she was gone. I think you should definitely budget some time for weeping and keening into at the least the first day or so.
OK, Ruby’s turn:
- Always bring water to tennis. I mean, bring water everywhere but especially to tennis. I thought I was going to die on the tennis court.
- You’re going to be homesick. Maybe even when you think you’ve gotten over being homesick, you’ll suddenly be homesick again. But don’t keep it inside. Talk to your counselors, and talk to your friends. Then, when you’re over it, your friends might be homesick, and you can help them. You take turns being homesick and cheering one another up.
- The food is way better than people say it is. Everyone jokes about camp food, but our food was delicious. Also, we ran around so much that we got really hungry. If there was something I didn’t like, I just put lots of Crystal or Tony’s on it and ate it anyway. But most of it was really good!
- Sorry for my language, but … Some of what the older campers tell you is BS. Especially the stuff about ghosts and spooky camp legends. Don’t fall for it. They’re just trying to scare you, and you’ll probably try to scare the little kids, too, when you’re older.
- Wear flip-flops in the shower. Yeah, it feels weird at first to shower with your shoes on, but … yeah. Just trust me on this one.
And a bonus tip from both of us:
You won’t regret it! Camp is amazing!