Growing up at summer camp

Portions of this post were originally posted in the spring of 2012, but I wanted to revive it since it’s that time of year again… time to think about summer camp!

I enjoyed a very Peter Pan type of childhood… well, if Peter Pan lived in the concrete jungle. :) All the neighborhood kids spent endless summer nights creating our own society of sorts, among the alleys in between row homes on the edge of Baltimore City. Most of us had no idea we lived in such a large city, because the four walls of the world seemed to end just beyond our community. But inside of those boundaries, we were free to enjoy life to the fullest.

We had it all… including the theater (our recreations of Annie were amazing!), mass transportation (we put a lot of miles on those bikes), private investigators (OK, so maybe it was just one kid with a spy kit, but he was great at finding things), even our own government (which met in my family’s shed clubhouse). While my parents now tell of the nearby crime and violence that eventually caused us to move “to the burbs,” my friends and I felt like we owned the world, and loved every minute of it.

So when, at age 10, we did move to a “safer” part of town (i.e., the sticks), ironically it was as if a whole new — and scary — world opened up for me. I felt lost for a while, which was mostly due to the fact that I started middle school in a brand new town with absolutely zero friends. Ouch.

A year later, my world got even bigger when we welcomed our first foreign exchange student from France. Not only did she tell us of her adventures across the ocean, but also of the most amazing place I could imagine. She let me know there actually was a place where older kids could still feel like they owned their world — including everything I missed about my old neighborhood! She called it summer camp.

She told me about the fabulous friends she’d made there, the delicious food, the fun activities, the gorgeous weather, the sandy beaches, the singing, the comfortable cabins (thankfully with indoor plumbing)… But to be honest, she had me at friends. That was the big part of what I was missing in my new home: good friends (I would make them there, eventually).

And so it was that the summer in between eighth and ninth grades, my parents drove me ten hours north to a fifty-acre property at the end of a two-mile dirt road. They dropped me off and I never looked back. Literally. My poor mom cried her way back to civilization, while I reveled in my new Peter Pan existence for the next three weeks.

Canoes at Chop Point Camp in Maine

I didn’t watch any TV… or play any video games… or check my email (because most of us hadn’t even heard of it yet, duh). I didn’t even call home. And I had an absolute blast. So much for missing my concrete jungle… the lush, nurturing environment of camp allowed me to learn so much about myself and the world around me that I didn’t want to leave. I made friendships that have lasted two and a half decades. And then something else happened… even though I was surrounded by all the things that help keep you young, I think I really grew up at summer camp.

I spent four summers at Chop Point Summer Camp, which is a camp in Maine that focuses on kids ages 12-17. This means they can do things differently than other camps with younger kids. Campers at Chop Point get to pick their own activities to fill their days. So, on the first morning after you arrive, everyone selects what will become his or her daily schedule. That first summer, I chose Beginning Tennis (which I never graduated from, in four summers), Beginning Sailing, Photography, and Basketball. The other time slots became my free time, during which I enjoyed water skiing, swimming, and hanging out with new friends.

Chop Point Summer Camp in Maine

It only took about three days of shooting hoops before I realized it wasn’t for me. I had selected that activity because a “cool girl” had also selected it, but I really really wasn’t liking basketball or her. I complained to my cabin-mates and pouted during breakfast. Ugg, I wished I had picked volleyball instead!

I even briefly entertained the idea of calling home. (But decided against it, sorry mom.)

Eventually, my counselor suggested I go see the camp director about switching my activity. “Can’t you do it for me?” I pleaded. Uhhh… that’d be a negative.

I can laugh about it now, but at the time that walk to the director’s office was long and painful. I agonized over what to say, and how to phrase my argument. When I was finally ready, I walked in and stated my case. Those were some of the longest two minutes of my whole 13 years.

Success!

Volleyball was fun, but you know what I really got out of that whole experience? I learned, for the first time without my parents, how to fix my own problems. It may seem like a trivial situation, but it really was quite monumental. My self-esteem was boosted. My self-worth was increased. And my leadership skills were nurtured. (I later returned as a counselor, where I was able to work side-by-side with some of those same friends I first met as a camper years before.)

I went from being a camper to a counselor several years later.

Indeed, the American Camping Association states: For years, campers’ parents have reported that when their children return home from camp they are more caring, understand the importance of giving, are more equipped to stand up for what they know is right, and are willing to be more responsible.

So when each of my daughters turned 12, the question of sending her to camp at Chop Point was really a no-brainer. I’ve talked with parents who say they can’t imagine sending their kids away to camp for three weeks. They wonder: What will they do (on their own)? How will they cope (without me)?

My answer: They will do fine thrive.

If we give our kids a chance to spread their wings inside a safe environment like summer camp, we just might be surprised at the wonderful ways in which they grow up. I know I did. :)

Full disclosure: I ended up marrying the camp director’s son. So, some might say I am particularly biased toward this camp. However, I think I have a great perspective because I have been a camper, counselor, and now parent of a camper (or rather two). And in the past few years, I’ve been privileged to watch as my daughters’ friends have also gotten to experience Chop Point. It’s an amazing adventure and I wouldn’t trade any minute of it. If you’d like to speak to me about this camp, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.