Campfires, canoes, and consternation: Camp through the eyes of an introverted mother


File photo. File photo.

Summer camp. The very words spawn olfactory hallucinations of mildew, and a paralyzing fear that someone will make me play tetherball. For although I went to a popular girls’ camp every summer ages 9-13, I hated summer camp. For the purposes of this piece, the camp in question will remain the Camp-That-Must-Not-Be-Named, because it’s a well-run institution justly beloved by generations of girls. Just not this girl. But it’s not the camp’s fault that I preferred activities like novel reading and vegging out to hiking and horseback riding. It’s also not the camp’s fault that I’m not a morning person, an extrovert, or particularly coordinated. They do make camps for people like me, it turns out; when I went to sleep-away theater camp in high school, I finally figured out where all the moody, insecure, indoor-types had been hanging out.

When my daughter turned camp-going age, the question of whether she would attend Camp-That-Must-Not-Be-Named arose. My mother and sister made some of their happiest memories at this camp. How could I deprive my daughter of a wonderful opportunity to gain skills and friendships in a gorgeous outdoor setting? Whatever. I resolved to do just that. I didn’t want her to go away! I wanted her home getting on my nerves where she belonged! And besides, what if she hated it?

My mother then moved to manage the situation. First, she started a whispering campaign, filling my daughter’s head with camp propaganda (aka funny stories). Then, she played her trump card and offered to pay for it. Faced with a child now very eager to attend a free two-week wilderness retreat, I backed down. The nerve of my mother, offering my child a free happy summer experience! Grandparents!

During the seven-hour drive to camp, my daughter was wiggling and drumming her fingers, loudly singing, “THE SUN’LL COME OUT TOMORROW!” How does she plan to live at home and keep me company in my dotage with that kind of attitude? Driving into camp, I felt suffocated with anxiety. The glimmering lake! The rustic dining hall! The perky, singing campers! Get me out of this hell! My daughter, on the other hand, hopped out of the car, walked up to her bunkmate, and said, “Want to hang out? I don’t have any friends yet.” I was dismissed.

It was a long wait for news. Every day I scanned the 700 photos the camp uploaded to the website: Was she smiling? Was she making friends? Had she changed clothes? Every day I wrote her a letter, just like my mom had for me. Finally after eight long days we got a letter back! With trembling fingers I ripped open the envelope: “Dear Dad…” Fine! No, that’s O.K.!

I arrived bright and early on pick-up morning, and we were on the road home by 10am. By 1pm she’d talked for three hours straight; pounded a yogurt, a bag of pretzels, a meatball sub, two nectarines, and a cookie; and blacked out into a nap. Before she fell into the camp coma I managed to glean that, although her weeks away had included times of homesickness, insecurity, and doubt, she was very positive about the experience.

“I feel like camp changed me, and now I will be a more independent and strong person,” she said. “I know myself better now.”

Wow. I felt like I knew her better, too. And I was so proud of her. If she wants to go back to camp, I’ll let her. Heck, I might even pay for it.

Kid corner 

Twice a month we bring you Kids These Days, a column written by parents and for parents, plus a roundup of local news and events related to kids and families. Have something you want to see added to the page? Send your scoops to

Are your kids obsessed with all things Lion King? It’s not too late to sign them up for an African safari-themed summer day camp at the Virginia Discovery Museum. Beginning on Monday, August 4, children ages four to eight can get up close and personal with the planet’s second-largest continent through hands-on activities, games, and crafts. Summer camps are $190 per child for non-members, and $150 for members.

It’s county fair season! The Albemarle County Fair runs through Saturday, August 2, and includes farm animals, kids’ rides, contests, and family activities at Ash Lawn-Highland. Kids under six get in free, and it’s $5 for everyone else. Up Route 29, Greene is hosting its own festivities on the county’s fairgrounds through Saturday, which will include auctions, live music and a cornhole tournament.

For the first time in forever…Frozen is playing at Scott Stadium! On Saturday, August 2, pack up the kids with some blankets and some snacks, and head over to Grounds for a free showing of Frozen, every-
one’s favorite new Disney flick. Gates open at 6pm, the movie begins at 7pm, and it’s free for all ages.

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