Our family is camp cursed, and I know why. When I was 9 years old, my mother sent me off to a two-week overnight camp that I hated for about 3 million reasons. Top of the list is that my brand new puppy died while I was away. Instead of telling me the truth when they picked me up, my parents were ready with a replacement schnauzer. My old dog had cropped ears and answered to her name, Schatzi. The new dog had floppy ears and ignored me when I called her by name, Schatzi.
I spent the next 25 years telling people that I would never inflict camp on anyone, least of all my own kids. “Swimming lessons everyday in an ice cold lake, and then your dog dies! Just say no!”
Then two huge things happened that changed my mind: 1) I had kids, and 2) It was summer.
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I tried to pick camps judiciously and include my children in the decisions, but they assure me now I still made awful choices. Here are some of the camps my son, Phinny, and daughter, Addie, have attended through the years.
1. Opera Camp
This one I can own with a big time mea culpa. What business does a 5-year-old boy who loves to wreck Lego towers and play “American Idiot” on air guitar have going to Opera Camp? Their day started with twirling in a basement room to Puccini followed by violin lessons. I was so sick I couldn’t make the final production—an operetta about the creation myth in which my son played, as he told me, “the assistant to a not very important person.” I never even watched the video.
2. Camp Do Nothing (Our Name)
They made it sound much better. But for two weeks at this overnight camp, you could do whatever you wanted. Whatever you wanted! These are 10-year-old boys and girls in the woods with 13 hours of free time each day. The cabins were colorfully chalked with graffiti and swear words, and there were regular field trips to a local swap shop to pick up arts and crafts supplies. During a massive six-day heat wave, the kids begged their counselors to take them to the lake that was 10 minutes away. Finally on the last day, the counselors agreed. But it started to thunder, so after five minutes in the water, they had to leave. Oh, and the food was vegetarian.
3. Dance Camp (aka Fuse Bead Camp)
The only activity was watching "High School Musical II." My daughter saw it more than a dozen times that summer.
My daughter loves to dance, so what could be bad about Dance Place Dance Camp? The price was right and it was five minutes from our house. Well nothing was really wrong with it, except that they didn’t dance. The little girls would spend the morning making fuse bead creations while the counselors texted. In the afternoon, they would spray each other with the hose in the asphalt parking lot out back then tie knots in the counselors’ hair while they texted. In the “extended day” program, the only activity was watching "High School Musical II." My daughter saw it more than a dozen times that summer. To be fair, Addie loved this camp and every Friday would beg me to sign her up again for the following week. Not surprisingly there was always room.
4. Show-Up-Whenever-You-Want-We-Don't-Have-Instructors Soccer Camp
The year my son’s soccer coach decided to run a day camp, it was a no-brainer to send him. My son loves soccer and the camp was held in a nearby field that he could walk to. The promises of high-level coaching did only not materialize, but no coaches actually materialized. The kids were told by the single camp “organizer” to pick sides for three hours of unsupervised scrimmaging. As it was never clear when, or even if, breaks would occur, Phinny would regularly cut out of the game and run home for a snack.
5. Boating Camp (With Bacterially-Infected Water)
A week-long boating day camp run by the Boys and Girls Club on our town pond looked like a good fit for Addie. Phinny had attended a few years earlier and told great stories about crafting a raft from logs and racing to the small island in the middle of the pond to search for the “golden oar.” All good if the pond is not riddled with bacteria as it was when my daughter went to camp. “Try not to touch the water at all,” were the instructions given that year. My cautious daughter took this so seriously that she wanted to wear dish gloves while she was rowing.
Now for the hopeful news. My son is 17 and my daughter is 14. They both not only survived several terrible camps, but they will both also be working at really good camps this summer.