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Camping It Up


Ruby leaves for camp on Sunday, which means I am deep in the weeds w/re: packing.

Just like last year, I have a sense of what she needs (thin towels, three bathing suits, 10 pairs of shorts, a sweatshirt, a backpack, a can of tennis balls), and I actually have most of it, but I also know there are certain once-a-year items (twin mattress cover, shoe holder, shower caddy) that honestly could be anywhere. Are they in her trunk? Maybe! Are they in the attic? Possibly! Are they in the downstairs linen closet that we stuff random shit into just before company comes over? Very likely!

It’s pretty clear that I can’t tell you how to pack. I really have no clue myself. The first year, I bought a fancy camp label package, and I loved it, but it was too expensive to justify buying again. So the next year, I just bought labels I could write on myself, and it worked fine, but my hand cramped up and the ink smeared, and so the next year, I bought a cheap label package off of Etsy, and everything looked great but the iron-on labels stuck to their backing and I had a tantrum about it and the stick-on labels fell apart in the wash/ melted in the dishwasher. So this year, I bought the fancy camp label package again (but I used a coupon code, so hey!).

The first year, I packed and repacked and rolled and smashed everything to get it into her trunk, which I buckled triumphantly while sitting on the lid. The next year, I did the same thing but left her sleeping bag out because I knew she would spread it over her bed immediately upon arrival anyway. Last year, I did my best – sort of – but ended up packing a bunch of stuff in a separate duffel bag and praying the camp staff wouldn’t call me out for it. They didn’t, so this year, I’ll probably just pack her clothes in the trunk and throw her bedding and towels in a garbage bag and call it done.

The first year, I made sure she had absolutely everything she could possibly need; last year, I ended up realizing we’d forgotten a ton of stuff and having it sent to her at camp via Amazon two-day delivery.

But even if I can’t give you useful packing advice, I can give you a few do’s and don’ts if this happens to be your kid’s first time away.

Do make sure your kid has stationery, plenty of stamps, and some basic knowledge of how to address an envelope.

Don’t assume that any of the above means you’re going to get a letter.

Do try to send daily emails to your child informing them about how you’re doing, making sure to keep the tone upbeat and the topics light.

Don’t expect your child to appreciate this or greet you with anything beyond, “Mary Alice’s mom sent her a care package every single day and you only sent me one twice a week.”

Do try to cultivate a hobby to take up all of the free time you have without your child around.

Don’t let that hobby be scouring daily photos sent from camp to see if you can discern some kind of clues about your child’s overall happiness and well-being based on the position of her hands, the friends she is with in the picture, the T-shirt she is wearing, or whether you think her smile reaches her eyes (see also: Eve’s Lonely Hamburger Meltdown of 2017).

Do brace yourself for frequent moments of melancholy, such as a pang of deep longing when finding a pair of your kid’s dirty socks in the corner of the living room or realizing how much milk you’re not going through.

Don’t let this sadness fool you into thinking you won’t lose your temper with your child within hours of having her back in your company when she says something like, “Mary Alice’s mom sent her a care package every single day and you only sent me one twice a week.”

Do allow your child to share her favorite parts of camp and even express some sadness about camp being over as she transitions back into daily life without water-skiing and horseback-riding and nightly s’mores.

Don’t – and I can’t stress this enough – attempt to re-create her favorite tater tot casserole at home. Some things are better left at camp.

There you have it: all my best tips for camp, culled from three summers’ worth of experience. Did I leave anything out that you’re curious about? Please ask in the comments – just as long as it’s not about packing. I suck at packing.


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