04 6 / 2012
Written by ERICA
In absolute heaven…
When I think about my “happy place”—you know, the place that contains all the good things that make you smile and none of the crap—there is one place that comes to mind. It’s not my bed. It’s not Owen’s nursery. And shockingly, it’s not my couch on a summer Sunday night watching True Blood with a massive glass of vino and a bag of candy in hand. Though all of those places make me VERY happy, my happiest happy place of all is at camp.
I am a firm believer that nothing can be wrong if you’re hanging on the docks or swimming in the camp lake, and there is no problem that can’t be fixed by a late night barf party followed by a sugar-high-induced dance party. And yes, there is such a thing as a barf party where you eat your face off until you literally want to barf. It’s the BEST.
I love camp so much that I not only went to sleep-away camp for 7 summers as a camper (ages 9-15), I also worked there for 2 summers as a counselor (ages 19-20). And I’ve spent pretty much every summer since then scheduling visits, re-living my glory days as Olympic Co-General and wishing I was a kid again.
My love of all things camp runs deep. My favorite movie is Wet Hot American Summer, which takes place on the last day of sleep-away camp in the 80s. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it IMMEDIATELY, but not with your kids, parents or anyone who doesn’t think that the concept of humping a fridge is pure genius. I freak out when I see a Skybar (the delicious and uber special candy that was used as a reward at camp when a kid lost a tooth, had a birthday, or snuck into the kitchen in the middle of the night and found the counselors’ secret stash.) I drool at the thought of drinking an ice cold Shipyard Summer Ale, the beer we chugged pretty much every night as counselors that I can’t seem to find anywhere but near camp. I hear a song that once upon a time my friends and I adopted as our summer anthem and I only remember the ridiculously inaccurate (and poorly rhymed) lyrics we sang as kids. 15 years later I can still name every single girl in my bunk and point out where she slept. And most importantly, I’m still best friends with the same girls I met at camp as an awkward 9-year-old with bangs and braces.
Then, 1996. Friends through braces, bangs, acne and awkwardness…and don’t even get me started on my haircut.
And Now, 2011 (minus one who couldn’t make our reunion thanks to a lame thing we “adults” call a job)
Anyway, some people might call me a freak. My friend used to look at me like I had a nipple on my forehead when I would spend 20 minutes explaining the rules of Capture the Flag and no-hands-dessert-contests. Some might mock my obsession with all things involving Maine, relay races, sailing, s’mores and cookouts. Some people might think I have a really bad case of Peter Pan Syndrome and I’m so obsessed with camp because I don’t want to grow up.
And here’s what I have to say to that last one: everything I know about being a kid, being an adult and most importantly, being a mom, I learned at camp.
I’m not trying to take anything away from my parents, because obviously I am who I am because of them. I owe my life to them and every day they teach me more and more about being a good person and a great parent. Duh. But so much of who I have become as a person and an adult I learned from being a camper. And many of the qualities I hope to portray as a mother I learned from my days as a counselor.
As a camper I didn’t just learn to improve my tennis game, to wakeboard, to rock climb and to sail. I didn’t simply make friendship bracelets, build fires or memorize dance steps. I did way more than just play soccer, perform on stage and make my own bed. I learned to live with other people, some of whom I didn’t particularly like. I learned responsibility and to take care of my own crap. I learned to compete and to work hard to be my best. I also learned how to fail. I learned to be confident and responsible but also silly and mischievous. I was encouraged to be adventurous and try new things. I was challenged but never pressured. I learned how to plan some amazingly clever and devious pranks (think red, white and blue dyed tampons). And then I found out how it feels to get in a lot of trouble. I learned how to be a better big sister, a better friend and how to be comfortable being myself.
As a counselor I learned that kids are way smarter than you think. Especially pubescent girls, they’re just trouble. I figured out quickly that kids really just want someone they can relate to. They want someone to look up to. I learned how to be fun, funny and silly, and still demand respect. I learned boundaries, and tried hard to implement them. I learned how to set a good example (and equally important, how to hide when I was being a less than stellar role model, which happened often on my nights off). I learned how to be a leader and a multi-tasker. I learned how to be a good friend to my co-counselors, and to be someone my girls could look up to. And most importantly, I learned how to have a good time and laugh, even when I woke up at 6am to find a group of 11 year old girls wearing my underwear on their heads.
Sure, on the surface camp seems like a nice way to waste a ton of money so that your kid can spend a couple of months playing with friends. But there is a reason that people who went to camp remain obsessed with camp for their entire lives. It’s not a coincidence that people like me count down the minutes until the next reunion. Normally I try to invent ways to make time stand still so that Owen never ages a day, but I can’t wait for him to be old enough to see why camp is my happy place…and you bet your a$$ I CAN’T WAIT to visit him.