Homesickness and…Kidsickness?

“The kids were rolling their eyes. The parents were dabbing theirs. Homesickness loomed…for the parents. If the younger folk were worried about being separated from their parents and pets (and iPad and IPhone), the older generation looked positively stricken by a combination of love and anxiety.”

OurKids-“Why Send Kids to Camp”

“Are you all packed and ready for camp?” I could hear my mother shout as we were piling into our red minivan on my very first overnight week away from home. Am I ready for camp?! NO! I am a shy, awkward, freckly kid who would never ever be ready to leave home willingly. I am two feet taller than all my friends and am not a great speaker. How on earth could she ask if I was ready for camp? Sure, I was packed, but ready? No way.

I quickly found out once I arrived after our four hour trip that I was just as unprepared as the other children. There was the odd, overly confident kid who was ready to take on the world, the occasional kids who were with their friends, but most of us were just looking to fit in…or find the closest rock to hide under until this seven days of torture passed by.

Long story short, I made lifelong friends and had one of the most incredible weeks of my life. My camp counsellor was AMAZING and after the first day I could hardly believe that this new adventure was going to be just for a week. Not in a million years would my parents have imagined the change that they witnessed in the 168 hours since they had left me.

I now work full-time in the camping world and have seen the incredible shift from when I was a child being dropped off at camp. Having the incredibly rewarding job of registering campers for programs through the summer, I begin the journey with parents and campers long before they are ever dropped off at their cabins with their suitcases packed and sense of adventure ready. I begin with the simple questions to gather information, “Where are you located? What is the cost of your camp? What is the difference between English and Western Riding? Will there be other kids going to camp for the first time?” I have the privilege of hearing the love in the parents voices, seeing the steps each of them go through as they weigh the pros of camp and finally decide that this is a good fit for their children.

When summer FINALLY comes and it is their child’s week of camp I get to be one of the people to greet them, register them, tell them where to go and introduce them to Teen Ranch. I get to show them that they are in great hands and all will be okay. What have I noticed when I do this? It is no longer the kids who are teary eyed as they go. It is no longer the kids who complain about our no cellphone policy. It is no longer the kids who are shocked they can’t call home until Wednesday. It’s the parents.

“Kidsickness” is the new word for this parental problem. But, to their credit, to date none of the moms or dads have stowed away at camp—so off their kids go for better or… better. I often get asked by parents if they can stay at camp. This is mainly because they are shocked at how lovely the property is and they want a vacation for themselves, but every now and then when someone asks they aren’t joking. They really mean it. They can’t bear the idea that their precious child might be alone for a week. Their clothes might not match every day! Goodness, they might even where plaid and camo together! That’s the thing about camp. Kids leave, tears well, and then—the transformation begins. If kids grow the most when they’re asleep, they do it double-time at camp, for almost the same reason: they are transported to a different world. Camo and plaid is okay at camp. Be wacky, be fun! That is what camp is all about!

Kids may take time to adjust to this new “parentless” week but in the end they are so much better for it. They learn that they have to hang up their own towel because if they don’t it stinks. They learn to keep track of their shoes because if they don’t their feet aren’t comfortable. They have a week to start over. No one knows they are awkward, tall, or aren’t great speakers. They’re just another kid who is as nervous as the rest of the campers. Just another kid who is learning new skills and life lessons. Perhaps camp’s most amazing attribute is that it wipes the slate clean. Kids who were unpopular or even bullied back home get to re-invent themselves:

Camp is not the answer to every emotional problem, but clearly it is the answer to some. Because along with all the campfires, swimming, memories, mosquito bites and lifelong friends, kids are getting something soul-deep: the confidence to take on life’s ups and downs. When the kids come back in summer, there will be tears again, mostly of joy, but also expect a little bit of campsickness…from both generations.

-Rebecca Jansen
Teen Ranch Registrar

 

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