By Caitlin Kelly
Here’s a recent rant from The New York Times by a woman who hated her time at summer camp:
Here is the truth: I hated camp. I hated camp so much, and continue to hate it and to resent the fact that I hated it, that I’ve come to develop a grand, if wobbly, theory about it. The world divides into those people who despised camp and those people who loved it. What about those who never even went? They would probably fall into either camp if they had.
People who like camp, naturally (that’s a key word in this divide) are different from me in every way. Campers are outgoing; they are out-everything, really — outdoorsy, outward bound. They dart through bushes without worrying about ticks or slugs or sharp metal objects hidden in the undergrowth. They enjoy getting undressed in front of large groups of strangers. They know how to throw and catch Frisbees. They don’t mind bologna.
I loved it, and here’s some of my first blog post about why, from 2009:
You learn to pick your bunk, preferably the lower one so you can draw your knees up and kick the bum of the kid above you. You hope the kid above you does not wet the bed, snore or have an epileptic fit.
You learn to hoist a sail, build a fire, portage a canoe, gunwhale bob (and pronounce gunwhale, “gunnel”), twang a bow, pitch a tent, collect firewood from the highest branches (using a Melamine mug and long rope swung like a lasso.)
You get homesick, and get over it. You discover you’re really good at the J-stroke or singing Broadway show tunes in the summer musical. You learn how to cup your hands and imitate a loon call.
You learn how to spot a loon across a lake before he dives deep and disappears. You learn to find your place in a new community, amid the bed-wetters and thumb-suckers, the jocks and the artistes.
You realize, no matter how poorly you might fit into your class or your school or your neighborhood or town or your family, these people are genuinely happy to see you. The best counselors, and they are gifts indeed, want to see you thrive and grow. Your shoulders drop a little with relief.
Camp is definitely a North American thing, and usually for people whose families have healthy incomes.
For me, it was also the place I put myself back together again — emotionally and intellectually — after yet another year in boarding school being yelled at by old, fat Scottish housemothers and competing all the time for grades. There, I was often in trouble, being messy and scoring low marks for our room’s neatness, which then required that I memorize Bible verses (yes) in order to even be allowed off campus for the weekend.
I attended summer camp for all eight weeks ages eight to 16, and went to three of them, all in northern Ontario, each about three hours by bus from my home city of Toronto. Each camp was all-girl, and one of the things it taught me is that smart, athletic, kind girls rock.
The counselors who took us out on 10-day canoe trips through Algonquin Park, battling rain and black flies, were female. They kept us alive!
I doubt I’d have been as comfortable in a Nicaraguan dugout canoe without it!
Competence was expected and excellence often the norm. Those are powerful lessons for any young girl.
If you come from a happy family, and/or have a safe, calm and lovely place to escape city smell, noise and humidity during the summer, camp isn’t probably very appealing.
But if you don’t, and also hunger for a place where all your talents can thrive — and the best camps do — it can be such a refuge.
It was for me. One reason I’m still so deeply comforted by nature is having spent so much time in it there: canoeing, hiking, sailing, swimming and living in a wooden cabin with the sound of the lake lapping on the rocks below. Sharing space with four or five or six girls I didn’t know was normal after boarding school.
And only in the safe harbor of camp was I able to fully become all the things I wanted to be: a singer, actress, sailor, friend, and even a leader of my peers. No school or classroom, anywhere, ever, allowed me such freedom, or gave me access to so many people who loved me, every year, for the quirky and creative kid I was, and would remain.
Camp gave me the confidence I might never have found elsewhere, and the guts to survive three years of high school bullying. I am grateful beyond measure for having had that experience.
Have you been to summer camp? Or your kids?
Love it or hate it?